Jack Roosevelt Robinson, the first African-American baseball player to see his team to the World Series, was bom in Cairo, Georgia. His family lived there for a year before his father deserted them and Jackie’s mother moved them to Pasadena, California.
Jackie attended Pasadena Junior College before transferring to the Universi¬ ty of California at Los Angeles, where he was the first student to gain letters in base¬ ball, basketball, football and track. In his third year, Robinson quit school and played for the Los Angeles Bulldogs before being drafted into the army in 1942.
Robinson applied for the Officers’ Can¬ didate School (OCS) and was turned down because of his race. Aggravated and insis¬ tent, Robinson complained to the highest level. Heavyweight champion Joe Louis, who was also stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, used his connections to have Robin¬ son admitted.
He became a second lieu¬ tenant, later admitting how difficult it was: “I was naive about the elaborate lengths to which racists in the armed forces would go to put a vocal black man in his place.”
In 1944, Robinson finally returned to his career as a baseball player in the US. Joining the Kansas City Monarchs, an all black team playing in an all black league, Robinson came to the attention of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ president and general manager Branch Rickey, who had sent scouts out into the Negro League after deciding to be the first team to desegregate baseball.
Robinson met Rickey in 1945 and promised that he could take any pressure that came from his being the first African- American ball player in the white league. Already aware how extensive racism can be, Robinson was prepared when his pres¬ ence nearly led to a strike.
Robinson’s team members signed a peti¬ tion for his removal, the president of the Philadelphia Phillies refused to play against the Dodgers while Robinson was on the roster and the St. Louis Cardinals sent out word that they would strike.
In response, the president of the Nation¬ al League was forced to make a statement. Coming down on the side of integration, he said to the Phillies, “If you do this, you will be suspended from the league….I don’t care if it wrecks the National League for five years. This is the United States of America, and one citizen has as much right to play as another.”
Though the first years were tough, and Robinson had to be twice as good as his best competitors to be accepted, in 1947 he became the first African-American ball player in the World Series and was named Rookie of the Year. In 1949 he won the Most Valuable Player Award.
He retired in 1958, after a year with the San Francisco Giants, and died knowing that the world of sports was now open to players of all races.