Jackie Robinson: Quotes, Biography & Facts

Instructor: Christopher Prokes

Chris is an instructional designer and college faculty member. He has a Master's Degree in Education and also umpires baseball.

Jackie Robinson was the first African American player in Major League Baseball. After breaking the color barrier, he became an advocate for civil rights. Learn about Robinson's life and his game-changing role in baseball and American history.

Changing of the Guard

Baseball is America's pastime, and most Americans have either played or watched the game at some point in their lives. For most of its early history it was segregated, which means there were different leagues for white players and black players. That all changed in 1947 when Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was the first player to break the color barrier in baseball. His actions opened the door for many future African American players and he later became a champion for civil rights. Let's explore a little bit about Robinson by looking at his early life, his remarkable athletic career, and his vital role in the civil rights movement.

Son of a Sharecropper

Jackie Roosevelt Robinson was born on January 31, 1919 in Cairo, Georgia. He came from a family of sharecroppers, workers who labored on land owned by others. They were very poor and his mother raised him and his four siblings on her own.

Robinson was a stand-out athlete in four sports at UCLA, but he left college for money reasons. He joined the Army and was soon promoted to second lieutenant. But racism reared its ugly head when he was brought up on charges for refusing to comply with segregated bus rules (which required blacks to move to the back of the bus). He was eventually acquitted and honorably discharged.

Robinson in his Army dress uniform

  • FACT: Robinson's acquittal happened with help from the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and the attention it brought to the case.

Athletic Career

Inspired by his brother, Matthew (a silver medalist at the 1936 Olympics), Jackie worked hard to hone his athletic abilities. He excelled at football, basketball, track, and baseball in high school, junior college, and then at UCLA. He even played semi-professional football.

Robinson excelled at many sports, including track, at UCLA.

  • FACT: Robinson was the first athlete to earn a varsity letter in four sports at UCLA.

As mentioned, he left college because of finances and enlisted in the Army. After his discharge, Robinson's athletic skills were still strong and he started playing professional baseball. At that time, segregation was part of the sport and there were separate leagues for whites and blacks. Robinson played in the Negro Leagues. But Branch Rickey, president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, wanted Jackie to play for his team, signing him in 1946.

Breaking the Color Barrier

Robinson initially played for the Montreal Royals, a minor league team for the Dodgers. The team eventually called Robinson up from the minors for his major league debut. On April 15, 1947, he stepped up to the plate at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, New York. By participating in that game, he broke the color barrier of segregated baseball and showed that black players and white players could share the same field. His courageous choice to join the Dodgers did not just affect baseball; he started the process of integrating that sport and sent shockwaves throughout the country.

Not everyone was thrilled with Robinson's appearance on the field. Many teammates were unhappy with him just being on their roster. Other players and managers yelled racial slurs at him while he played. Teams did not want to play the Dodgers and threatened to strike. Crowds in ballparks yelled, too, and his family received death threats. Robinson handled the situation with grace, saying, 'I'm not concerned with your liking or disliking meā€¦All I ask is that you respect me as a human being.'

Robinson as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers

One supporter, team president Branch Rickey (who later became baseball's commissioner) pushed Robinson to rise above and ignore the racist comments in order to better himself. Such a strategy made Robinson's resolve stronger. Another advocate was team manager Leo Durocher, who told dissenting Dodgers players that he would trade them before he traded Robinson. That leadership style took care of many issues in-house.

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