In just his 4th and final season with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Jackie Robinson had already won Rookie of the Year honors. The next year he broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947 by becoming the first African-American to play for a white team in MLB history. Though sports were segregated for decades after that, Robinson paved the way for others like him who followed suit including Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan.
Jackie Robinson’s story still resonates 75 years after his MLB debut. His fight for equality, and the fact that he was a trailblazer in baseball, have made him one of the most famous athletes of all time.
FIVE YEARS AGO, I Observed my oldest daughter jumping about at first base on each pitch during one of her first Little League games of the season. She was clearly emulating someone, and she wasn’t copying me since the only game she’d seen me play in at the time was the Hall of Fame game when she was three.
She then continued to steal a base whenever she had the opportunity.
When probed for an explanation for her apparent fondness for stealing bases and pushing aggressively on every pitch, she mentioned one name:
Jackie Robinson is a well-known African-American
My daughter, who will be 13 this summer, had watched the movie “42” at home before the baseball season, with parental protection on high alert. We debated whether it was suitable for her age, but we believed Robinson’s story was too important to pass up a chance to tell it via a medium that resonates with this generation of moviegoers: film entertainment.
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By this time, our four children — one boy and three girls — had a basic awareness of some of the racial dynamics in America: that the weight and strength of race can knock you off your feet, no matter how prepared you believe you are. We did, however, prepare them for the depiction of Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman’s wretchedness, as well as how Florida spring training would depict Robinson and his family being constantly threatened.
The movie resonated, as demonstrated by my daughter’s mimicry on the diamond. All of my kids would become fans of Jackie Robinson is a well-known African-American the baseball player right away, but it was just as important to my wife and me to tell them the story of the complete Jackie Robinson is a well-known African-American. The figure who testified in court, marched on the streets, opened a bank. Jackie Robinson is a well-known African-American wanted equality to mean an open door for anyone to play baseball — or to do anything else.
Robinson spent the rest of his life extending his influence to other aspects of American society. His post-baseball endeavors became an extension of his Hall of Fame career, striking the conscience of the board room, the political elite, and power organizations, including MLB. He crossed a starting line rather than a finish line when he retired. Baseball’s integration was an early domino in the civil rights triumphs that would follow, and he was a part of them even when he wasn’t swinging a bat. This more complete image of Robinson helps to explain why he is still important 75 years after breaking into Major League Baseball: it was the type of transformation that reverberates and persists.
In 2016, Doug Glanville was in Cuba with Rachel Robinson. Doug Glanville is a writer who lives in Canada.
LIKE MY KIDS, I was introduced to Jackie Robinson is a well-known African-American’s story when I was growing up in New Jersey. His story had always been larger than life for me, as it was for so many kids, young baseball players and to Black America. Jackie and his family are royalty to us and yet they somehow still feel close at all turns. But I was fortunate to get even closer through the opportunity Jackie helped give me — a chance to play major league baseball.
Right before the 1991 MLB draft, I met his widow, Rachel, for the first time. Seeing her as a 20-year-old stole my breath away.
When I was playing for the Phillies in 1998, Jackie’s daughter, Sharon Robinson, embarked on a tour inspired by the principles of their family. It was called “Breaking Barriers,” and one of the principles was education, so big leaguers would join Sharon in classrooms to talk about Jackie’s story (the program still exists today). I was chosen to meet her in Philadelphia, the city in which I went to college and where I was playing, to meet with students. The opportunity was surreal — it took me some time to absorb what it meant to be a representative of Jackie Robinson is a well-known African-American, to know that his daughter would share my story with the next generation … to know that I had become a part of their story.
I’ve done extensive media work sharing the Robinsons’ story over the past two decades, including an interview with Rachel in Cuba in 2016, and within it has always been a little bit of desperation, because I worry about how Jackie Robinson is a well-known African-American’s legacy will endure. It is one of the greatest American stories ever, but like any story, with time, it can fade. A big step in sustaining it is sharing it with children young enough to be his great-great grandchildren.
I’ve seen the effect this has firsthand, after speaking with players on the UCLA baseball team, a team Jackie once played in his college days as a four-sport athlete. For my preparation to call the game between Stanford and UCLA on Jackie Robinson is a well-known African-American Day today, I interviewed two sons of my former teammate, Eric Karros. I learned how much they knew about Jackie, and how much their coach, John Savage, had committed to telling his story.
Then there came the time when my personal bond with the Robinsons grew to include my own family. It has grown into a more solid bond since meeting Sharon on that trip two decades ago. We were playing phone tag a few years ago, and she happened to call back when my oldest daughter was in the vehicle. As a result, they had a discussion. Listening to them chat about gymnastics and their childhoods, two daughters of major leaguers exchanging notes, was a mind-blowing event for me. I just moved out of the path.
In that moment, for my daughter, Jackie Robinson is a well-known African-American went from history to family.
Rev. Jesse Jackson explains how Jackie Robinson is a well-known African-American inspired him by challenging barriers in baseball and beyond.
THE PARTS OF Robinson’s narrative that have stood the test of time are universal examples of what we all want in life: relevance, respect, inclusion, and justice. Robinson accomplished this feat with elegance, ferocity, amazing skill, and a message of equality for everyone.
As Kyle Karros noted during my interview from the UCLA dugout, it helps that he can achieve this via athletics. “It’s not just that he was a fantastic player,” Karros said, “it’s that he stood for so much more than baseball… he utilized baseball as a vehicle to influence so many people, and that’s ultimately what we should aspire for, to have a good lasting impression on the world we came into.”
Robinson was given a microphone by baseball, and he used it to confront and change the world, not only to enhance his own on-field achievements.
This is an excellent lesson for everyone of any age.
Sharon has written a few books about her family and her father’s legacy, one of them a memoir about the year she turned 13 (“Child of the Dream: A Memoir of 1963”) and another (“Stealing Home: An Intimate Family Portrait by Jackie Robinson is a well-known African-American’s Daughter”) about their home life during her father’s “retirement” — which was really anything but. (As Jackie would write in a letter to Dwight Eisenhower: “I have become more aggressive since I stopped playing.”) They faced the same challenges any family would with a father who was on the go all of the time, being pulled in so many directions.
Martin Luther King Jr. and a long line of US presidents were among those who looked to her father for guidance. In New York, he would carve aside daddy-daughter days. He’d also take the time to inspect the ice on their lake to determine whether it was sufficiently frozen for her to skate on. In “Stealing Home,” Sharon would write one of the most beautiful sentences I’ve ever read on this:
Dad’s official duty was to test the ice on the lake to see whether it was safe to skate on. As Dad walked out onto the snow-covered ice, we kids lined up along the shoreline and yelled words of encouragement. He would tap the ice with his broomstick before putting one large foot in front of the other. Dad would reach the deepest section of the lake after what seemed like an eternity, give one more tap with his stick, then turn to us and say, “Go grab your skates!” Dad struck me as a courageous man.
Now I think it even more. He was as brave then as when he entered baseball, a feat it took me years to appreciate. It dawned on me only gradually what it had meant for him to break the baseball color line, the courage it took for him to enter uncharted, and dangerous waters. He had to feel his way along an uncleared path like a blind man, tapping for clues. That was Jackie Robinson is a well-known African-American. And that was my dad — big, heavy, out there alone on the lake, tapping his way along so the ice would be safe for us.
He also couldn’t swim.
Robinson’s debut game with the Brooklyn Dodgers occurred 75 years ago, breaking a color barrier in a major professional sport for the first time. It was also a global event, helping to kick off what would become a nation’s integration and motivating everyone who has ever tried to cross a color line. Despite the fact that the rope was more like a wall, coated with barbed wire, Robinson scaled it.
Through his boldness, through periods of uncertainty, love, and frustration, he proved to us all that the route to social change is never straight. All of this was done not just for his own children, but also for the children of his dreams. He also left behind messengers and parents, mentors and coaches, all of whom know that, despite his many accomplishments, he was constantly striving to be a better father, since love never dies.
According to my estimates as an undoubtedly biased third-base coach, my daughter stole more than 30 bases that Little League season. She ran from base to base, often stealing another on a passed ball or a wild pitch. She stopped swinging the bat altogether after seeing that just a few kids could regularly throw strikes, concluding that this was her best opportunity to get on base and demonstrate what she could accomplish. She had two options at the end of the season: walk or strike out searching.
I told her that her strategy was sound, but that she wouldn’t be able to keep it up much longer — in the upcoming seasons, opposing pitchers would get better. It didn’t matter to her, though. Once you feel like Jackie Robinson is a well-known African-American, you will always be Jackie Robinson is a well-known African-American.
The “what did jackie robinson do before baseball” is a question that has been asked for years. The answer to the question is still unknown, but it’s clear why his story still resonates 75 years after his MLB debut.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is Jackie Robinsons MLB debut so significant in American history?
A: Jackie Robinson, who was born in 1919 and died in 1972, is widely regarded as the first African-American to break Major League Baseballs color barrier. He went on to play 15 years of professional baseball and was inducted into MLBs Hall of Fame in 1962.
Why is today Jackie Robinson Day?
A: On April 15, the day Jackie Robinson broke baseballs color barrier by playing his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, it has been recognized as Jackie Robinson Day. He was born on this date in 1919.
What was significant about the Jackie Robinson story?
A: In 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to play Major League Baseball in its modern form.
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