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Jackie Robinson's Struggle as the First Black Player in MLB

Jackie Robinson, seen above in 1954, was the first African-American player in Major League Baseball. When he broke the color barrier in 1947, he faced harsh treatment from his own teammates, as well as players on opposing teams.

Jackie Robinson, seen above in 1954, was the first African-American player in Major League Baseball. When he broke the color barrier in 1947, he faced harsh treatment from his own teammates, as well as players on opposing teams.

How Did Jackie Robinson Impact Society?

When Jackie Robinson took his position at first base at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947, the history of America was changed forever. Becoming the first African-American in Major League Baseball in the 20th century, Robinson faced harsh criticism from fans, other players, and even his own teammates. As the season waned, however, the criticism diminished, and the praise grew.

In between, though, the Dodgers nearly had an internal uprising led by their Southern players, death threats poured into Robinson’s mail, the Philadelphia Phillies manager and players were warned by baseball’s commissioner for their excessive racial taunts during a game, and the St. Louis Cardinals may have attempted to strike rather than play on the same field as a black man. Still, Robinson managed to fight through these issues to be named Rookie of the Year, and he helped lead the Dodgers to the World Series by the season’s end.

Nonetheless, the timing of Robinson’s debut encouraged the criticism of him as post-World War II American society was a society which needed normalcy. Many people looked to baseball to find that normalcy, since the game had been there for more than 50 years, but an African-American player changed that. At the same time, the greater change in society likely eased the criticism, because Americans were accustomed to change, lowering the shock value of Robinson’s debut except for those living in the Jim Crow south. But, if there was one player to overcome it all, that player certainly was Jackie Robinson.

Jackie Robinson's Roots

Born on January 31, 1919, in Cairo, Georgia, Jack Roosevelt Robinson was transplanted to California because his mother thought her children would have a better life there than in the strictly segregated south. However, the family faced discrimination throughout Jackie’s childhood since his mother bought a house in a white neighborhood.

The family struggled through the depression years when Jackie became a teenager, which was the same time he discovered his athletic prowess because his brother, an Olympian, inspired him to try sports. Robinson became a four-sport athlete at John Muir Technical High School, competing in football, basketball, baseball, and track. He would later take his sports fame to Pasadena Junior College before enrolling at UCLA, where he would become the first athlete in university history to letter in four sports during his first year. He met his future wife, Rachel, at the college in 1941, and they would get married following his brief stint in the military.

During his military career, Robinson nearly ruined his chance to become the first black player in professional baseball. On July 6, 1944, Robinson was on a military bus which was taking him to Camp Hood army base in Texas. While the state still abided by Jim Crow bus segregation, the military had recently adopted desegregated buses, a policy Robinson knew about. After refusing to move to the back of the bus, Robinson and the bus driver, Milton N. Renegar, had a heated exchange, which resulted in a call to the military police, commanded by Captain Gerald M. Bear. Bear was trying to have Robinson court-martialed because of his activity on the bus, which eventually occurred on July 24. His trial on August 23 quietly ended with his acquittal, but the incident would come to light again when the Dodgers began contemplating signing him.

While he had committed no crime, he had reacted poorly when the incident occurred. According to reports from the scene, Robinson had told the bus driver, “I’m not going to move a [expletive] bit” and told a white woman, “You better quit [expletive] with me.” If this temper were to flare up during a baseball game, it would ruin the chances of a smooth integration to baseball. At the same time, it was clear he was passionate about his rights as an American citizen, which was also a value needed to break the color line. Someone who followed the “rules” of society may have just lied down and quit when the going got too hard on the baseball field, but it was clear that would not happen with Robinson.

For Brooklyn Dodgers president and general manager Branch Rickey, the question about Robinson was whether his intelligence would allow him to keep his temper in check while still displaying the strength needed to overcome the taunts he would hear from fans and other players? This question was deliberated carefully when Robinson became a candidate to break the color line.

Jackie Robinson is seen during his time with the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues.

Jackie Robinson is seen during his time with the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues.

Breaking Baseball's Color Barrier

Discussion of allowing blacks into Major League Baseball began after commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who was a strict segregationist, died in 1944. However, some tryouts had been given to players from the Negro Leagues earlier in the 1940s. A.B. Happy Chandler, a Kentucky politician at the time, was named commissioner in 1945 and quickly became a friend to those in favor of integration. “For 24 years Judge Landis wouldn’t let a black man play. I had his records, and I read them, and for 24 years Landis consistently blocked any attempts to put blacks and whites together on a big league field,” Chandler said soon after taking office.

However, it would prove to be Rickey who would become the face of baseball’s integration project. Credited by many, even in the 1940s, as a baseball genius, Rickey had already solidified his claim to eternal fame by perfecting the minor league system that is still integral to baseball today. With the Dodgers struggling when he took control of the team in 1943, Rickey wanted to quickly replenish the team with talent. At that time, the largest untouched pool of players was in the Negro Leagues, which is where Rickey went.

By April 1945, he was already working on a secret plan to place a black player on his club. A known proponent of integration, Rickey explained during a meeting with reporters how the sporadic contract agreements and scheduling of the Negro Leagues were harmful to black players, personally and as ballplayers. His remedy was a new Negro League called the United States League, which would include his own team, the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers. From there, the black media fired criticism at Rickey, saying he was aspiring to become the “dictator” of black baseball. One columnist, Ludlow W. Werner, even wrote that, “When I left that meeting … I had formed the opinion that it would be a hot day in December before Rickey would ever have a Negro wear the uniform of organized [white] baseball.” Meanwhile, Rickey sent his scouts to find him the best Negro League talent in America, knowing he had effectively disguised his plan to find an African-American to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

However, talent was only part of what Rickey wanted to find in a ballplayer. Enter Jackie Robinson. The UCLA graduate and World War II veteran was spotted by a Dodgers scout when he was playing shortstop for the Kansas City Monarchs. While he had a history of standing up for himself, Robinson was still an attractive prospect for Rickey’s experiment. He had already played on integrated teams in college and did not have a scandalous off-the-field life filled with smoking, drinking, or chasing women. More importantly, Rickey believed him to be intelligent enough to understand the role he would eventually take in 1947. With one player having to bear the burden of the experiment’s success or failure on his shoulders, Rickey had to carefully question every aspect of Robinson’s athletic ability, life, and character. Once Robinson was pinned as the man for the experiment, he was signed to a minor league contract with the Montreal Royals, the AAA affiliate of the Dodgers, in November of 1945, a time of a great shift in American society.

Rachel Robinson Describes Jackie Robinson's Meeting with Branch Rickey

A Changing America

World War II changed America. Friends became foes, women were working, the Communist Party was gaining power, and black activists were slowly beginning the Civil Rights Movement. As America’s “national pastime,” baseball was supposed to be a relief and escape for fans living in that changing, confusing America. However, Robinson’s presence made even baseball a confusing part of American society when it needed normalcy the most. The game had been a mirror image of society since the turn of the century, with blacks and whites playing separately.

It was no secret that the Negro Leagues did not afford the same opportunities the Major Leagues did, but there were few complaints about that until the World War II era when players began to earn tryouts. Pitcher Nate Moreland and Robinson had tryouts with the White Sox in 1942, just prior to Robinson’s military enlistment. Manager Jimmy Dykes said of Robinson, who had a sore leg that day, “I’d hate to see him on two good legs. He’s worth $50,000 of anybody’s money.” However, his $50,000 was not good enough for Robinson, as Dykes dismissed both players, even though he was for integration.

That dismissal, as well as several others during the 1940s, showed that baseball was not ready to change during the war years. The post-war attitudes of America allowed Rickey to conduct his experiment, and while some within the game and America opposed it, baseball became one of the first American businesses to become integrated. Prior to the 1947 season, Wendell Smith of The Pittsburgh Courier gave Robinson the chance to write a short column chronicling his journey each week. The Courier was one of America’s leading Negro newspapers of the time, and Robinson took time each week to reflect on his season.

In one of his first columns, he wrote about his views on integration. “It seems to me that playing baseball is one thing and the color of a man’s skin is another … I hope the color of my skin won’t turn out to be my greatest error.” After the season, he again visited the topic, insisting he knew that challenges awaited him from the moment he stepped into the batter’s box. “It was inevitable as night follows day that my presence in the Major Leagues would eventually be challenged, officially or unofficially, by some group within or without the ranks of baseball,” Robinson wrote. As it turned out, he was right on both accounts.

Death Threats

About a month into the 1947 season, Robinson began to receive anonymous, threatening letters. While the Dodgers were in Philadelphia, the New York City Police were investigating death threats that Robinson had received. Rickey handled the media’s interest in the story, announcing that, “At least two letters of a nature that I felt called for investigation were received by Robinson” in hopes of rallying some public support for Robinson, who was clearly suffering personally. In Arnold Rampersad’s biography of Robinson, it was revealed that those letters threatened violence against Robinson’s wife, Rachel, and the kidnapping of his son, Jack Jr. It was never determined who sent the letters, as the signatures and addresses were fake, but they do give an indication of how strictly segregation was enforced in some areas. To tamper with those rules in any form was worth murder to some people. These letters were also good for Robinson in a way because he easily could have become irrational about dealing with the letters, given his past temper issues. However, he stayed calm and let the proper authorities take care of the letters, proving Rickey’s point that Robinson’s intelligence would trump his temper when it was needed most.

In the photo section of Rampersad’s book, two letters are printed. They read: “Note. We have already got (sic) rid of several like you. One was found in river (sic) just recently” and “Robinson. We are going to kill you if you attempt to enter a ballgame at Crosley Field (in Cincinnati). The Travelers.” These types of letters likely continued to flood Robinson’s mailbox throughout his entire career, but for each threatening letter, there were letters of praise. In Jonathan Eig’s book, Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season, several letters are reprinted, and some of them said, “… if I can raise my boy to be half the man that you are, I’ll be a happy father” and “You’ve got a lot more friends in this country of ours than enemies.” However, even before any letters were sent to Robinson, there were some within baseball challenging his presence, just as he knew they would. The source of those challenges may have come as a surprise, though.

Leo Durocher was Jackie Robinson's first manager in Major League Baseball, and was a friend to him when some of the Dodgers attempted to revolt against the fact there a black player on the roster.

Leo Durocher was Jackie Robinson's first manager in Major League Baseball, and was a friend to him when some of the Dodgers attempted to revolt against the fact there a black player on the roster.

Internal Uprising

Dodgers slugger and right fielder Dixie Walker was one of the most popular and productive players on the team each year. During the offseason, the native Alabaman owned a hardware store back home that he cared deeply about. Often in 1947, he worried if playing on the integrated Dodgers would affect his business. “I didn’t know if they would spit on me or not,” Walker said years later. This sentiment was shared by many other Southern players, even if they did not vocalize them as loudly as Walker did or have any business interests in the South like Walker did. For as long as the South had existed, Southerners believed blacks were inferior in every aspect of life. Those feelings stayed with them whether they were at home, in the North, or in another country, and Rickey did not understand this. He had expected Walker to be a leader in welcoming Robinson to the team, but Walker’s connection to the South mattered more to him than his connection to the Dodgers.

No one seems to be certain how it may have started, but in 1947, there was a petition circulated by Brooklyn players who were opposed to having Robinson as a teammate. It was led by five Southerners, including Walker, and their objective was to force Rickey to keep Robinson off the Major League club. Once Rickey got word of the protest, he moved immediately to squash it. In spring training, the Dodgers decided to go to Panama, because Robinson would be treated more fairly there than in the United States. In the middle of the night, when Rickey found out about the petition, he had manager Leo Durocher wake up the players and give a speech about accepting Robinson. In an angry tirade, Durocher said, “I don’t care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a [expletive] zebra. I’m the manager of this team, and I say he plays.” Walker still was not pleased, leaving a letter for Rickey on March 26 demanding to be traded. In that letter, Walker wrote, “For reasons I don’t care to go into, I feel my decision is best for all concerned.”

In later years, Walker attempted to clarify both the protest and his desire to be traded, which was eventually granted the next season. He did admit to having concerns about playing with a black player, which were two-fold. First, he held the belief, which many did at the time, that blacks did not have “ice water in their veins,” which would make them collapse under pressure. Second, Walker said he faced pressure from family and friends in Alabama to not play with Robinson because he was black. “I grew up in the South and in those days you grew up in a different manner than you do today,” Walker said in 1981. He also said he was not the person who started the petition and claims to have never seen such a thing in the clubhouse. Robinson backed up this claim some 30 years earlier, writing, “He was always courteous and considerate to me. Never once … did he indicate that he resented my presence on the Brooklyn club.” When Robinson and the Dodgers went on the road, he could not say the same thing about the other players, at least at the beginning of the season.

After his first season in Major League Baseball, Jackie Robinson told his story to Wendell Smith for an autobiography. He outlined many of the hardships he faced during his first season in the book.

After his first season in Major League Baseball, Jackie Robinson told his story to Wendell Smith for an autobiography. He outlined many of the hardships he faced during his first season in the book.


Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman and his squad faced the Dodgers in just the fifth game of the season. During the three-game series from April 22 to April 24, the native Alabaman was reported as having told his players to “ride Robinson unmercifully” from the bench. According to Robinson after the season, the news report was not an exaggeration. “Hey, you black [expletive]” and “Why don’t you go back where you came from?” are two taunts Robinson recalled hearing players yell during his first at-bat. As much as Robinson wanted to “take a sock at one of them,” he gritted his teeth and used the epitaphs as motivation to hit a single. This was one of the defining moments of Robinson’s entire baseball career, which lasted until 1956, because he showed his inner strength by holding back, retaliating with his bat instead of his fists. This hard and aggressive style of play is something he would become noted for. In addition, Robinson also learned he had supporters after the incident.

Dodger second baseman Ed Stanky came to Robinson’s aid at the end of the series, yelling “Listen, you yellow-bellied cowards, why don’t you yell at someone who can answer back?” toward the Phillies dugout. Bench-jockeying, or “riding,” players had always been an accepted part of baseball, and oftentimes, it centered on players’ ethnic or religious backgrounds. It was those acts of “unmerciful” riding that some fans had heard, which prompted several letters to the Major League office. That led to an official decision about the incident the week of May 5. Commissioner A.B. “Happy” Chandler warned the Phillies about the insults they were hurling, insisting they stop using “vicious un-American racial remarks” against Robinson, who Chandler said would receive “no favors” from his office but had a right to not have to face racial epitaphs. On May 9, the Dodgers arrived in Philadelphia for another series with the Phillies. Chapman was warned beforehand to not have another incident with Robinson, to which Chapman obliged. He even went so far as to pose for a picture with Robinson on the dugout steps in front of a home crowd. “Jackie has been accepted in baseball and we of the Philadelphia organization have no objection to his playing and wish him all the luck we can,” Chapman told news reporters after the game. The photo stunt and postgame quote may have looked good on the outside, but Chapman supposedly murmured to Robinson, "Jackie, you know, you’re a good ballplayer, but you’re still a [expletive] to me."

Chapman was one of many Southern players and coaches who were strongly opposed to the integration of baseball. Even though there were no Major League clubs in the deep South, each and every team had Southern players, most of who were raised to believe in segregation. Some were stars, some were no-namers, but most all of them were against integration. Rickey knew Robinson would encounter abuse from these players throughout the season and tried his best to prepare him accordingly. Rickey earned a law degree from the University of Michigan, and he had sought advice from several people regarding how to handle the times when Robinson faced criticism. However, nothing Rickey said before the season could have prepared Robinson for the epitaphs he heard in Philadelphia, but Robinson stood strong and firm, again proving Rickey’s praise of Robinson’s demeanor. Immediately after the Philadelphia incident, Robinson’s will was tested again.

Joe Garagiola and Jackie Robinson had some disputes when the St. Louis Cardinals played the Brooklyn Dodgers during the 1947 season.

Joe Garagiola and Jackie Robinson had some disputes when the St. Louis Cardinals played the Brooklyn Dodgers during the 1947 season.

St. Louis

St. Louis was expected to be one of the roughest cities for Robinson to visit during the season. The southernmost city in the Major Leagues at the time, St. Louis was home to two clubs: the defending World Series champion Cardinals of the National League and the Browns of the American League. With the Cardinals and Dodgers as preseason favorites to contend for a pennant in 1947, bitter feelings were expected between the two teams anyway, so Robinson’s presence was only going to heighten them. The city never experienced any major race riots, but there was a large-scale riot in East St. Louis, Illinois in 1917. St. Louis was far from an integrated city, however, as segregation in housing and business were commonplace there. The city’s segregation also affected its ballpark, Sportsman’s Field, until 1942, when both St. Louis clubs became the last two Major League teams to eliminate segregated seating. That was just one part of St. Louis’ society that was integrated though, as Robinson was not permitted to stay with his teammates at the Chase Hotel when the Dodgers came to town later in the season. The first time the teams met was in Brooklyn, and that meeting showed that some Cardinals players felt the Major Leagues should have stayed segregated.

The first series, which ran from May 6-8, was the first of several meetings the teams would endure throughout the season. However, when it started, some Cardinal players did not seem interested in playing at all, supposedly starting a strike petition instead of playing on the same field as a black man. The problem? Perhaps a strike was never even discussed among players, but there was definitely some kind of displeasure among Cardinal players. It is believed that St. Louis players were upset about the idea of playing against a Negro in the same way the Brooklyn players were upset about playing with a Negro at the beginning of the season, but there has never been any clear evidence of a petition. Cardinal owner Sam Breadon did approach National League President Ford Frick before the series began in hopes of quieting the players he had heard making anti-Robinson comments. Frick gave Breadon a statement to read to his players with hopes of getting the situation low key, which it temporarily did. Later on, Breadon and St. Louis manager Eddie Dyer both denied the charges that existed, insisting the confusion occurred because many National League players were not satisfied that a Negro had infiltrated their league. In the end, every Cardinal player took the field when the series started.

The supposed strike did hit the papers though, but it wasn’t until after the series was complete. Frick issued a statement regarding the supposed incident in St. Louis: “If you do this, you will be suspended from the league. You will find that the friends you think you have in the press box will not support you, that you will be outcasts. Those who do it will encounter quick retribution. All will be suspended and I don’t care if it wrecks the National League for five years. This is the United States of America and one citizen has as much right to play as another. The National League will go down the line with Robinson no matter what the consequence. You will find if you go through with your intention that you have been guilty of complete madness.” Whether there was a strike threat, Robinson gained support from another high-ranking baseball official.

Whatever really happened may never be 100 percent certain, but it is hard to believe there was an actual plan to strike. While not every player in the league went on barnstorming tours across the country in the offseason, many did. Those barnstorming clubs often played against teams of Negro League players, which would make many players hypocrites if they refused to play against Brooklyn. That hypocrisy is something Robinson did not believe really existed. “I still refuse to believe that they didn’t want to play against me. I think that ‘issue’ wasn’t really anything at all,” Robinson wrote in his May 31 column for The Courier. Even more so, St. Louis’ Marty Marion was believed to be one of the instigators of the strike. However, in a game later in the season, Robinson slid into the Cardinal shortstop on a stolen base attempt. Marion had to leap for the ball, and he believed he had spiked Robinson on his way down. Instead of leaving Robinson unattended, Marion made sure he was not injured.

On May 21, Robinson and the Dodgers made their first appearance of the season in St. Louis to surprising results. “I must say that I never ran into any difficulties with the Cardinal players. They were nice to me and I didn’t hear them say anything insulting from the bench,” Robinson wrote in The Courier. However, that series did establish the roots of rivalry that would permeate later in the season. Cardinal catcher Joe Garagiola, a temperamental, 200-pound player who was raised in St. Louis, and Robinson exchanged minor taunts before Robinson’s first at-bat. Robinson finished the words by telling Garagiola that, “No matter how fast you run, Joe, you can’t hit as much as you weigh.” Garagiola did hit his weight and then some, .257, by the end of the season, but perhaps Robinson’s comment stuck with him all the way until September.

During a crucial three-game series between the teams, Garagiola and Robinson had another tie-up. In the first game on September 11, Robinson was spiked by Garagiola on a close play at first base during the second inning. The next inning, Robinson said something to Garagiola before his at-bat, which led to a face-to-face confrontation between the two players. The exchange may have inspired Robinson, as he ended up going 6 for 13 at the plate during the series and made an inning-ending catch in the final game. However, it was the social aspect of this argument that was more significant than the play on the field. As Time magazine wrote, there were “no fisticuffs on the field [and] no rioting in the stands.” Robinson had truly been accepted by his opponents and their fans, maybe not as a person, but as a baseball player. A month earlier, Cardinal slugger Enos Slaughter also spiked Robinson, this time on a play at first base and leaving him with a large gash. Many who saw the play believe Slaughter, a native North Carolinian, had malicious intent on the play, but Robinson just “set his teeth and said nothing.” “I hopped up and down the first baseline, writhing like a man who had been burned by a blow torch,” Robinson wrote.

Spiking Incident with Enos Slaughter as Seen in the Movie 42

Interestingly, in between those two instances with Garagiola, there was a positive exchange between them. According to Smith’s June 21 story in the Courier, Robinson and Garagiola “talked shop” during a three-game series in St. Louis. In fact, Robinson said the entire Cardinal team was friendly during that series, with several players giving him advice. Manager and first-base coach Eddie Dyer made small-talk with Robinson every inning, which included advice on playing the game. Hall of Famer Joe Medwick told Robinson to loosen up at the plate. Hall of Famer Stan Musial and Marty Marion also reportedly gave him advice and treated him well. “They can say what they want about the Cardinals,” Robinson said, “but they’re a darn nice bunch of fellows.” However, those sentiments about all players would change at the season’s end when the incidents with Slaughter and Garagiola occurred.

Ironically, mid-way through the season, the city of St. Louis was the third to have Negro players. Henry Thompson and Willard Brown were signed by the St. Louis Browns, with Thompson debuting on July 17 and Brown following him up on the 20th. Both players were released by the end of August, but Browns owner Richard Muckerman said the signings were not a publicity stunt to bolster attendance for the struggling franchise. “We will sign any player we think is better than those we have. We feel Brown and Thompson can help our club,” he said. However, on July 16, the Browns’ record stood at 28-50, placing them well behind the first place New York Yankees (56-26-1). From July 17 through August 23 when Thompson was released, the Browns were 14-26, which was worse than the team had performed in its first 40 games (17-23). Neither player had impressed at the plate and manager Muddy Ruel said both players were given a fair trial, which were both used to justify their releases. For comparison, Tom Alston was the first Negro to play for the Cardinals, joining the club on April 13, 1954.

A Successful First Season

While Robinson was starting to fit into the National League and baseball as a whole by the middle point of the season, he had still not gained all the rights other ballplayers had. He could not react to a player’s insults. He could not slide into a base with his spikes up and get away with it. He could not even be criticized by a newspaperman without an apology, something that bothered Robinson. In his June 7 column for the Courier, he expressed his desire for equal treatment in the papers. During a series with the Boston Braves, a reporter for the Boston Evening American, Dave Eagan, was critical of Robinson’s play at first base but apologized in advance for what he wrote. “Lest I be charged with race prejudice in appraising Robinson’s play, I will testify that I like Jackie as a personality and a character and in some respects as a ball player, though I regret that I cannot endorse him as a first baseman,” he wrote, to which Robinson responded by writing, “I do not think anyone will accuse any writer of being prejudiced if he chooses to criticize me. I wouldn’t want anyone to either … If I don’t play good ball, I want the writers to say so.”

By the end of the season, Robinson had played good enough ball for the writers, and players, to send praise his way. As baseball’s Rookie of the Year, he received good words for his playing ability, not the color of skin. “The sociological experiment that Robinson represented, the trail-blazing that he did, the barriers he broke, did not enter into the decision,” wrote Sporting News editor J.G. Taylor Spink about the award. “He was rated and examined solely as a freshman player in the big leagues.” In 151 games, Robinson had 175 hits in 590 at-bats for a .297 average. He struck out just 36 times and led the league with 29 stolen bases. As praiseworthy as Spink was though, Robinson also picked up a positive comment from a player who came full circle: Dixie Walker. “No other ball player on this club, with possible exception of Bruce Edwards, has done more to put the Dodgers up in the race than Robinson,” Walker told The Sporting News. However, that statement still does not quite add up, as Edwards played in 130 games with 139 hits in 471 at-bats for a .295 average. He only scored 53 runs and had 55 strikeouts. It is not that Edwards was not a significant part of the Dodgers run but to say he contributed more than Robinson seems wildly inaccurate. Yet, it is not a surprising statement considering the source is a Southerner.

By the end of the year, it was hard to call Robinson’s first season with the Dodgers anything but a success. It would also be unfair to call the season anything but a challenge for Robinson, baseball, and American society. From the undeserved racial taunts thrown by the Phillies in May to the World Series in October, Robinson faced many highs and lows during the season. But why did a man just trying to make his living have to face so much criticism? American society of the time was one of Jim Crow rules, one of southern bigotry, and one looking for normalcy after it was realigned because of World War II. However, the fact society was changing was all the more reason for Branch Rickey to introduce Robinson to the white baseball world when he did. Robinson may have faced harsh criticism from many people, but had he been introduced without all the societal shifts of World War II, America probably would not have been ready for such a drastic change. The war allowed Robinson to be just another part of changing America instead of a sudden change in society.

Jackie Robinson is seen in 1950. While he didn't know it at the time, he was becoming one of the most important individuals in the Civil Rights Movement that lasted into the 1960s.

Jackie Robinson is seen in 1950. While he didn't know it at the time, he was becoming one of the most important individuals in the Civil Rights Movement that lasted into the 1960s.

Jackie Robinson in the Civil Rights Movement

Following his retirement in 1956, Robinson became a prominent voice in the civil rights movement. In 1957, he became the chairman for the NAACP's Freedom Fund Drive. He eventually joined the board of directors for the organization and served there until 1967. In 1958, he became a chairman for the Youth March for Integrated Schools. He also joined Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Robinson had a strong interest in giving back to the black community. In 1964, he founded the Freedom National Bank, a black-owned and operated bank that served the African American community in Harlem. He also established the Jackie Robinson Construction Company in 1970. Its goal was to build housing for low-income families.

While Robinson would inspire other black players in the league, he continuously criticized Major League Baseball's lack of people of color in manager roles or in the central office for teams. His final public appearance was in Game 2 of the 1972 World Series where he threw out the ceremonial first pitch. While accepting an award, he stated, "I'm going to be tremendously more pleased and more proud when I look at that third base coaching line one day and see a black face managing in baseball."

Jackie Robinson's Career Stats

  • At bats: 4,877
  • Runs scored: 947
  • Hits: 1,518
  • Home Runs: 137
  • Runs batted in: 734
  • Stolen bases: 197
  • Batting average: .311
  • On-base percentage: .409
  • On-base percentage plus slugging average: .883


  • Eig, Jonathan. Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2007.
  • Myrdal, Gunner. An American Dilemma: Volume I, The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy. 3rd ed. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1996.
  • Ott, Tim. Late-Game Strategy: The Activism of Jackie Robinson. From Biography.
  • Rampersad, Arnold. Jackie Robinson: A Biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.
  • Robinson, Jackie. “Jackie Robinson says.” The Pittsburgh Courier, April 5, 1947.
  • Robinson, Jackie. “Jackie Robinson says.” The Pittsburgh Courier, May 31, 1947.
  • Robinson, Jackie. “Jackie Robinson says.” The Pittsburgh Courier, June 7, 1947.
  • Robinson, Jackie as told to Alfred Duckett. I Never Had It Made. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1972.
  • Robinson, Jackie as told to Wendell Smith. My Own Story. Avon Reprint Edition. New York: Avon, 1949.
  • Smith, Wendell. “Frick’s actions avert big strike.” The Pittsburgh Courier, May 17, 1947.
  • Smith, Wendell. “Jackie Robinson’s ‘Rookie of the Year.’” The Pittsburgh Courier, Sept. 20, 1947.
  • Smith, Wendell. “Phillies warned by baseball czar over Robinson incident.” The Pittsburgh Courier, May 20, 1947.
  • Smith, Wendell. “St. Louis pilot, players friendly, helpful to Jackie.” The Pittsburgh Courier, June 21, 1947.
  • “Sport: Rookie of the Year.” Time. Sept. 22, 1947.
  • Tanotiger. “The Holy Writers name an award after a sworn racists.” Nov. 29, 2009. <>
  • Tygiel, Jules. Baseball’s Great Experiment. Expanded Ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
  • Wheeler, Kermitt K. “Browns sign up Negro stars.” The Pittsburgh Courier, July 26, 1947.
  • Wheeler, Kermitt K. “St. Louis releases outfielder, infielder.” The Pittsburgh Courier, August 30, 1947.

Questions & Answers

Question: What was Jackie Robinson's worst failure?

Answer: Jackie Robinson's worst failure was probably his troubles during his stint in the military. He did, however, turn that moment into a positive that helped him to become the first black player in Major League Baseball history.

Question: How old was Jackie Robinson in his first game?

Answer: When Jackie Robinson made his Major League debut on April 15, 1947, he was 28 years old.

Question: What was Jackie Robinson's main goal?

Answer: Jackie Robinson simply wanted to play baseball. While he understood his place as a Civil Rights pioneer, Robinson wanted to be accepted as a man who was also a baseball player. Later in life, however, he did have a goal of seeing a black manager in baseball, though he did not live long enough to see that come to fruition.

Question: What was the worst struggle Jackie Robinson had to face?

Answer: Put simply, Jackie Robinson's worst struggle was inclusion. Due to the segregation that existed in the United States during the time of his debut, Robinson faced racial taunts from fans, opponents, and some teammates, even though he had just as much a right to be on the baseball field.

Question: How did Jackie Robinson fight for equality?

Answer: Jackie Robinson fought for equality simply by taking the field every day. At numerous stadiums, he was the target of vicious verbal attacks from the fans and opposing players, but he gritted his teeth and played the game with more passion than anyone else. Later in life, he did plead with Major League Baseball in an effort to support the idea of an African-American manager, but he died before that cause was realized.

Question: When did Jackie Robinson start to excel in athletics?

Answer: Jackie Robinson's athletic prowess was first seen at John Muir High School where he lettered in varsity football, basketball, track and baseball, and he later became the first athlete to win letters in four sports at UCLA. Robinson's brother, Mack, was an Olympic track runner, so it's likely Jackie's talents were seen during his childhood years.

Question: What were Jackie Robinson's challenges?

Answer: Jackie Robinson was posed with the challenge of becoming the first modern African-American in Major League Baseball, which included numerous hardships (death threats, racial slurs, intentional spikings, etc.). Additionally, he took on the challenge of being among the first Civil Rights icons.

Question: Did Jackie Robinson go through discrimination?

Answer: Jackie Robinson faced extraordinary discrimination. Not only was he relegated to playing in the Negro Leagues at the start of his career because Major League Baseball discriminated against African-Americans, he also was forced to sleep at different hotels and eat at different restaurants than his teammates once he was accepted into MLB.

Question: How old was Jackie Robinson when he retired?

Answer: Jackie Robinson was 37 years old when he retired from Major League Baseball on Dec. 13, 1956. It was on that day when Robinson was traded from the Brooklyn Dodgers to the New York Giants for pitcher Dick Littlefield and $30,000. Robinson, however, opted to retire instead of accept the trade. On Jan. 14, 1957, Robinson submitted a formal retirement letter to Giants owner Horace Stoneham, and National League President Warren Giles approved the retirement two days later. In his letter, which he submitted on letterhead for Chock Full o' Nuts coffee, Robinson stated he was retiring to pursue other business interests. An announcement of Robinson's retirement appeared on Jan. 22, 1957, in Look Magazine.

Question: On what day was Jackie Robinson born?

Answer: Jackie Robinson was born on January 31, 1919, which was a Friday.

Question: How did integration change baseball?

Answer: Prior to Jackie Robinson integrating baseball, the sport was dominated by white athletes. That left African-American ballplayers relegated to the significantly less popular Negro Leagues, leaving them underpaid and underappreciated. Numerous legends (take Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, and "Cool Papa" Bell as examples) never got a chance to showcase their skills against the best players in baseball, making it impossible to know how they may have stacked up against Major League Baseball's Hall of Famers of those eras. When Robinson came into the league in 1947, it changed the game forever. Some of the greatest names in baseball history debuted in the Major Leagues after Robinson. Players like Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Bob Gibson, Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., and Pedro Martinez are just a handful of the greatest players who ever lived, and Robinson paved the way for all of them.

© 2014 Andrew Harner


Zachery leo on April 05, 2019:

it is very disappointment of what happened to Jackie Robinson

jackie robinson on January 10, 2019:

I'm still alive that article was great keep it up

Ronald E Franklin from Mechanicsburg, PA on May 03, 2016:

Well done. It is amazing to me that some Dodger players could have such tunnel vision as to believe that a petition could force Branch Rickey to back down from the stand he had so publicly taken. Didn't they sense the flow of history at all? The clock could not be turned back. But maybe such historical blindness was to be expected. After all, almost 20 years later George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door proclaiming "segregation forever." Prejudice is indeed blind, in more ways than one.