Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson was an African-American born on Jan 31, 1919 in the United States. He was born from a poor family and brought up by a single mother after his father disowned them at a tender age along with his other siblings. Robinson had a craving for Sports enhanced by his athletic body and excelled not only in Baseball but also in Football, Basketball, and Track. He was a professional baseball player at a time in the history of United States when the color of the skin was a determining factor in many aspects of life including sports.
During that time whites and blacks led completely different lives and Baseball was no exception but Jackie Robinson is said to have broken that baseball color line and went ahead to have his baseball career that was quite exceptional.
Despite the segregation blacks faced from the whites Jackie Robinson was more determined day by day to perform to the highest level. The president Branch Rickey and the Dodger organization (including part-owner, Vice president and General Counselor Walter O’Malley) hand-selected him to cross the precipitous color line.
He received ridicule and mockery from teammates, competitors, fans, umpires, writers, broadcasters and hotel managers but he promised president Rickey that he would not fight back other than with his bat and glove. When off the field the case was no different for he had to deal with Southern bigotry; anonymous death threats, racial remarks and opponents who were there to injure him. Robinson agreed to take on this historical civil rights challenge and qualified to succeed (Walter O’ Malley).
He made a lot of achievements and contributions both as an African-American and as a person. He was an extremely talented multi-sports player, a strong and courageous man who also played an active role in civil rights. He excelled in four major sports; football, basketball, track and baseball. Branch Rickey was the President and General Manager of Brooklyn Dodger who selected Robinson from a list of African-American and assigned him to Montreal Royal which was a part of Brooklyn Dodgers ‘Triple-Afarm’. And he (Branch Rickey) wanted a man who could refrain from the ugliness of the racial hatred that was certain to come. In fact a shorthand version of this fateful conversation in August 1945 is provided by many writers and journalists. Rickey is said to have told Robinson ‘I know you are a good ball player. What I don’t know is whether you have the guts`.Robinson had responded ‘Mr. Rickey, are you looking for a Negro to fight back?” Rickey exploded, ‘Robinson, I am looking for a ball player with guts enough not to fight back”. This heated argument has become an inspiring pact between two men who would later change the course of the country. ‘Baseball might only be a game, but in the area of black and white, it often is a leader (Latty Schwartz)
Jackie Robinson was the first African-American to play in the major leagues since the baseball color line was implemented in 1889. He also led in international Leagues. According to Robinson career batting statistics he stole home nineteen (19) times in his illustrious career. According to Walter O’Malley who was the team owner in his article wrote that in Robinson’s ten seasons, he was a six-time N.L All-Star, was an integral part of six N.L. Pennant-winning Dodger teams (1947, 1949,1952,1953,1955,1956) and he also won N.L battling title in 1949 with 342 average. Also won N.L MVP Award in 1949. He was also the first African-American player to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of fame in 1962. Robinson rejected any move to have him play for any other club apart from Dodger and announced his retirement on January 1957.
Robinson’s memorable talents in the Baseball field and his integrity as a man have not only earned him awards and honors but also great respect, pride and un-ending life-term memories to all the generations, those that existed and those to come. Many anniversaries and commemorations in his honor are celebrated up to date and he and the baseball game are symbolic of a microcosm of U.S. culture that magnifies societal change and acting as an inspirational force that shapes a new way of thinking, acting and remembering history.(Rednour.J 2008) His act of breaking Baseball color’s barrier on April 18, 1946 when Brooklyn Dodger owner Branch Rickey signed him in to play the Brooklyn Dodgers in the National League displayed the image of a true character of patience, humbleness and self-controlled .
The yelling from the fans that made racial sentiments did not deter him from playing and Robinson teammate Ree Wee Reese said that he did not know of any other ball player who would be able to hit with everybody yelling at him. He blocked all that out, blocked out everything but not the ball that was coming in at a hundred miles an hour and he had only a split second to make up his mind if it was in or out or down or coming at his head a split second to swing. Yet under all these conditions he went through day in and day out he made it and Pee Wee Reese his teammate and a Captain of the team felt that it was the most tremendous thing he had ever seen in sports.
A Robinson sentiment is written in many works and was quoted telling a White New Orleons sportswriter ‘We ask for nothing special. We ask only to be permitted to live as you live and as our nation’s constitution provides’. He bore a burden of pioneer in many fields not only in sports but his inspiring words; actions and his thrilling work in the field made him stronger his respect and admiration from his peers and fan worldwide.
Many consider Jack Robinson a civil right Advocate whose fights came through Baseball. His era saw the black person being deprived off the right of the American first-class citizenship. They were American citizen yet they were discriminated against and one of the quotes by Jackie Robinson was ‘We are demanding that we just be given the things that are rightfully ours and that we are not looking for anything else’. Jackie was one of the many African-American who made great contributions in uplifting the plight and welfare of black people not only in his demand for civil rights but also effective participation in democracy based upon enjoyment of basic freedoms which was taken for granted by everyone else just like Martin Luther King Junior said; he would wish to see the day when every person in America was treated equally irrespective of the skin color. Jackie prayed to see the most underprivileged Negro lived in equal dignity with anyone else in America.
Jackie Robinson desegregated not only Baseball but also America too politically, economically and socially. Earlier Baseball was a game of the whites and African American was not to play. Socially, America was able to break the racial boundaries that existed between the whites and blacks. Earlier there was a form of prejudice where the skin of the color more or less determined a person’s intelligence and capability, no wonder many whites could not stand to see the face of a black person in the fields. The team players, the fans and more worse the opponents literally refused to play and watch Jackie Robinson play and not because of how bad or well he could play but because he was a black whose place was “in the cotton field”. Many African-Americans were allowed to play in those games and sports which were considered to be Whiteman’s. Later public schools were also desegregated. America was forced to confront and change its legacy of racism and challenges of becoming a truly united country (Dorinson J et al1999)
Jackie Robinson quotes, ‘A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives’ and many agreed that his life and contributions are among the most important in America’s history. His American dream did not only touch on political arena but also on education .In conferences commemorating Jackie Robinson’s history debut as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team celebrated throughout the year in various parts of America, many scholars and students, his teammates and opponents, commentators and fans all gather with a common mission to participate in the event. The focus is extended beyond the historic events, sports to a greater analyses and commentaries and pursuit of the American dreams. Many authors have presented a wide variety of callings such as scholars, sportswriters, journalists, ballplayers and baseball fans (Dorinson J et al 1999). Their works presents diversity of styles and range of opinions and do not consistently conform to a single academic standard.
Our memory of him is made memorable by the beauty of such heady mix of journalism, scholarship and memory. There is a lot we can learn from such works, we need to concentrate on the lessons learnt from that generation that is quickly ‘passing into eternity’ (Dorinson J et al 1999). Jackie excelled economically for he was the first black person to serve the position of Vice President of a major American major Corporation. In 1957 he chaired the NAACP’s million dollar Freedom Fund Drive and he was a board member up to 1967. He became one of six national directors for Nelson Rockefeller’s Republican presidential campaign. He was later to become special assistant for community affairs in 1966 when Rockefeller was re-elected as the governor of New York. In 1970 Robinson established the Jackie Robinson construction company which main objective was to build housing for families with low incomes.
He was a fervent patriot who was committed to using his celebrity status and considerable resources to overcome the racial divide and that his children would have a brighter and bolder future (Long Michael 2007). However Robinson’s Maverick did not always go unchallenged and he made a considerable number of enemies like Malcolm X and his followers who depicted him as an “Uncle Tom” perfectly suited to clean up after his white bosses. The Mixon administration identified him as a threat significant enough to warrant a written report from J. Edgar Hoover even after as he (Robinson) offered to help (Long M 2007). Some of the enemies too felt that Robinson was not in any way unique, he played like other major players, and only his case was treated special just because he was an African American. To them there were other better and talented players but who did not ‘receive’ all these praises attributed to Robinson. In the field many were ‘drawn’ to him for his uniqueness (to refer to the fact that he was among the few blacks, infact the only black who was playing). That worked in his favor.
As for fighting for civil rights, the critics argue that other prominent persons had an upper hand in such matters and underwent more serious struggle and hardship as compared to Jackie Robinson. The current Robinson’s enemies feel that the much enjoyed civil rights of black people in America is the handwork of many including Martin Luther King who was assassinated for his just cause. To those enemies the list is endless and it is not fair when one person is recognized more than others who went through the same struggle. The latter agree that Robison played a significant role but with the help of others.
Those views are based on opinions from different people who may not necessarily have written articles on Robinson. They are spoken utterances rather than written ones from people who don’t see the point of so much jubilations of a hero who is long gone. However, Jackie Robinson supporters’ outweigh the enemies and much of the published works is clear evidence. Robinson letters and files are found in national archives. Among the popular ones is the first class citizenship in his demand for civil rights for the African American. Author Michael G. Long examined letters written by and to Jackie Robinson with the approval of his wife Rachel. His project was to examine and voice Jackie Robinson through his letters and replies far beyond the baseball diamond for the generations to understand the complicated history of race and politics in the United States. This book written ‘First class citizenship’ takes us to Jackie Robinson inner person.
Among his replies is to troubled young woman who had written of her love for him. Michael G. Long comments that this letter (from a secret admirer) revealed Robinson’s quick and easy appeal to moral principles- an appeal that would become characteristic of his civil rights letters. His response was that the girl (letter writer) was no doubt attractive and intelligent and would have no difficulty in finding the right man for her to create sound and honest life in marriage. She should go for some other kind of work outside her daily routine for she was suffering from some kind of mental delusion. He went on to say that he married Mrs. Robinson and exchanged vows to love, honor and cherish her for the rest of his life and ‘honor’ meant just that to him and any sneaking, skulking escapade would destroy the very thing that enabled him to hold his head up high.
The character of Jackie Robinson portrayed by this response is that of a faithful person who would not commit adultery under any circumstances. Other letters include those written to Branch Ricky whom he considered and respected like his own father. He says it was the finest experience he ever had being associated with Rickey and thanked him for what he meant to them and his family and also to the entire country and particularly the members of the African-American. To his friend and team mate Pee Wee Reese who helped him face racism especially from fans with a lot of courage a friend who was always ready to help but would refuse to take credit. Reese was the force that kept Dodger together in the clubhouse.
Any player who had a personal problem would always make his way to Reese cubicle for he offered friendly and helpful advice. (WalterO`Malley)At one time in the field fans yelled at Jackie shouting. `How can you play with this nigger`.Pee Wee went and put his arm around Jackie as if to say `This is my boy? This is the guy. We are gonna win with him`. The crowd shouted more and that’s why Pee Wee is such an instrumental person contributing in Jackie Robinson life (Pee Wee Quotes)
Jackie Robinson died at early age of fifty three in Staford, Connecticut on October twenty, 1972 of a heart attack. He had disease complications and diabetes that weakened him and made him blind at his middle age. In his last moments he expressed his wish to have more African American in Baseball team and senior posts.
Despite his death, his memories dwell in the minds of many even those who were born years later after his death. There has been no other great ballplayer that has touched many people like Jackie did. He started as a baseball player who would later shape the dreams of an entire generation. He overcame many barriers and there is a lot the world has learnt from him. To-date he continues to receive great awards and many charitable organization started in his name. Millions of lives have been uplifted and inspired by his generous act
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Robinson.J, Long.M.G, 2007, First Class Citizenship: The Civil Rights Letters of Jackie Robinson, Macmillan, 2007
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