Early Life and Gateway into Sports
Jackie Robinson was born on January 31, 1919, in Cairo, Georgia, the son of a sharecropper and the grandson of former slaves. Young Jackie grew up in Pasadena, California, raised by a single working mother of five. After graduating from Pasadena Junior College, Jackie attended the University of California Los Angeles. A star athlete, Jackie became the university's first four-sport letter winner, excelling in football, basketball, track and field, and baseball. After leaving UCLA, he served in the U.S. Army during World War II, but was court marshalled and honorably discharged for standing up for his rights and refusing to move to the back of a segregated military bus.
In 1944, upon returning home from the military, Jackie Robinson set his sights on joining baseball's Negro Leagues and began playing shortstop for the Kansas City Monarchs. In 1945, opportunity beckoned when Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, invited Robinson to become the first African American to play with the all-white Dodgers' farm team, the Montreal Royals. Anticipating the great adversity that Robinson would face as he integrated modern baseball, Rickey professed he needed a player who could bear the torment, famously telling Robinson he was "looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back."
An Unprecedented Career in the Major League
On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson stepped onto Ebbets Field for his first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was the beginning of an unparalleled career in baseball. At the end of his explosive nine years as a Dodger, his record included a .311 batting average, 137 home runs, 734 runs batted in, and 197 stolen bases. In 1955, he helped the Dodgers beat the New York Yankees to win their first World Series Championship. Robinson took home the Rookie of the Year Award in 1947, the Most Valuable Player Award in 1949, and in 1962 became the first African American inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The Fight for First Class Citizenship for All
After integrating baseball, Robinson became a full-fledged leader in the Civil Rights movement. He used his celebrity status to further human rights and endeavored to change the landscape of race relations in the United States. Upon retiring from the game in 1957, Robinson was hired to serve as the Vice President for Personnel at Chock Full O’Nuts, the first African American to be named a Vice President of a major American company. He used his position at Chock Full O’ Nuts to improve working conditions for employees.
An active member of the NAACP, Robinson was often a featured speaker at civil rights rallies including the famed March on Washington in 1963, and frequently participated in picket lines. As a nationally syndicated columnist for the New York Post and New York Amsterdam News, Robinson wrote passionately on social issues, sports, and family life, always encouraging people in his community to become active in politics and business.
In 1964, Robinson co-founded Freedom National Bank of Harlem, a Black owned and operated bank created for the express purpose of financially aiding African American communities. In 1970, he founded the Jackie Robinson Construction Company, which sought to provide housing for low income people.
In 1972, just twenty-five years after the start of the “Great Experiment,” Jackie Robinson died following his decade long battle with diabetes.