Jack Roosevelt "Jackie" Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia in 1919 to a family of sharecroppers. His mother, Mallie Robinson, single-handedly raised Jackie and her four other children. They were the only black family on their block, and the prejudice they encountered only strengthened their bond. From this humble beginning would grow the first baseball player to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier that segregated the sport for more than 50 years.
In 1880s, almost forty year prior to Jackie's birth, black players were banned from Major League Baseball. What is now known as the 'Color Barrier' was the segregation of players based on skin color in baseball. In the early 1900s, Negro League baseball was born out of this segregation. In 1945, Jackie played one season in the Negro Baseball League with the Kansas City Monarchs. He was a standout player with a bright future, one with greater challenges and achievements than he could've imagined. In 1947, Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey approached Jackie about joining the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Major Leagues had not had an African-American player since 1889. When Jackie took the field in a Brooklyn Dodger uniform, he pioneered the integration of professional sports in America. By breaking the color barrier in baseball he courageously challenged the deeply rooted custom of racial segregation in both the North and the South.
At the end of Jackie’s rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers, he had become National League Rookie of the Year with 12 homers, a league-leading 29 steals, and a .297 average. In 1949, he was selected as the NL’s Most Valuable player of the Year and also won the batting title with a .342 average that same year. As a result of his great success, Jackie was eventually inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.
In his life after baseball, he played a major role in the Civil Rights Movement.
Jackie used his celebrity to increase awareness about social injustice. He fundraised for freedom riders and lobbied politicians to support key civil rights initiatives. He was a board member of the NAACP and campaigned all across the country in support of the Movement.
Jackie Robinson’s life and legacy will be remembered as one of the most important in American history. On Tuesday, April 15th, 1997 President Bill Clinton paid tribute to Jackie at Shea Stadium in New York in a special ceremony. The country honored the man who stood defiantly against those who would work against racial equality and acknowledged the profound influence of one man’s life on the American culture.
Since the 50th Anniversary of Jackie’s breaking the color barrier, Major League Baseball has established Jackie Robinson Day on April 15th of each season. Every April 15th, the entire league wears number 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson and what he did for sports and the American culture. Number 42 is the only number that has been retired from all of Major League Baseball.
Jackie Robinson taught us how to have courage, determination and integrity in the pursuit of excellence and justice. Jackie Robinson is the man that changed the game. He is also the man that made history and changed the country. While Jackie was not alone in his endeavors, he reminds us all that one person CAN make a difference in the world.