Jackie Robinson (1919-1972) is one of the most famous baseball players in the US. He was #42 for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1947 to 1956. On April 15th 1947 he became the first Black person to play in the major leagues since Moses Fleetwood Walker in 1885.
Milestone: It was not just milestone for baseball and team sports in general in the US, it was a milestone for US society as a whole, a dry run of desegregation, the beginning of the end of Jim Crow. When Robinson played his first major league game, it was a year before President Truman ordered the racial desegregation of the military (Blacks and Whites had served in separate units). It was seven years before the Supreme Court ordered the desegregation of schools.
Major league baseball in the 1940s was the biggest sport in the US, played in all parts of the country, north and south, east and west. It also had largely objective measures of who was better than who, like batting averages. That made it a perfect field for Blacks to prove that they were just as good as Whites, helping to undermine racism.
Stereotypes: Jackie Robinson did not completely destroy racism, of course. In fact, many Whites simply added “good at sports”, along with “good at dancing” and “good at music”, to their “positive” stereotypes about Black people. Just as they would later preserve their anti-Asian racism with the stereotype of Asians being “good at science” and “good at mathematics”.
Jackie Robinson was a great player in his own right. He was named Rookie of the Year in 1947 and Most Valuable Player in 1949, when he led the league with a batting average of 0.342 and 37 bases stolen. As a Dodger he would steal home base 19 times! He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.
But he had to be more than just a good baseball player: he had to put up with death threats, the N-word, White players hurting him “by accident” – all of it without getting into a fight. He had to be the picture of character and grace if other Blacks were to get into the major leagues.
Negro league baseball: By 1959, all the major league teams had Black players. Like him, they were the best players of the Negro leagues, people like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Satchel Paige. In 1960 the last of the Negro leagues died.
Politics: Robinson was a liberal Republican of the Nelson Rockefeller sort, supporting Nixon against Kennedy in 1960. He raised money for civil rights organizations like the NAACP and the SCLC. He would not stand and sing the “Star-Spangled Banner” or salute the flag. He knew that “money is America’s God” and that he was a “black man in a white world.”
He died at 53, his hair already white, his heart and pancreas failing. Some say that all the hell they put him through drove him to an early grave.
In 1997 all the major league baseball teams, not just the Dodgers, retired his number, 42.
– Abagond, 2017.
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