Honoring Jackie Robinson
Today, April 15, marks the day that Jackie Robinson debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. He was the first black major league baseball player and used his platform to break down barriers for people of color across society.
Since 2004, MLB honors the six-time All-Star and base-stealing phenom by holding Jackie Robinson Day on the date that he broke the color barrier. Five years later, the league expanded the tradition by having every player wear Robinson's number, 42. The digits were retired across the league in 1997. Through Jackie Robinson Day, MLB recognizes Robinson's legacy as a groundbreaker by playing historic clips, writing reflective articles and calling for unity across racial divides.
Robinson's life was far from the tulips and butterflies that we might think of when we seek Kumbaya calls for reconciliation. We still have so far to go as the recent spread of the coronavirus has ripped open the realities of the disparities between communities of color.
No. 42 wasn't just a baseball player, he knew stepping onto Ebbets Field that fateful day that he would have to be stronger than any other player in the stadium. He would have to have more patience, discipline and courage than anyone else to endure the realities of racism in the United States.
Robinson ended up playing 10 years in Major League Baseball, all with the Dodgers, winning the 1955 World Series and a total of six National League pennants. He is a member of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 1962.
He married his wife, Rachel, a year before he donned the Dodgers jersey for the first time. The couple had three children, which they nurtured with the same values that they used to stand strong and impact the nation. Both coming from sunny and progressive California, traveling the country for baseball presented even starker racism than they had experienced before. Rachel recalled to Sports Illustrated how she and Jackie would have no other reaction that to laugh with each other about the outrageous responses people would have for them.
But despite growing up in Pasadena, which was fairly ahead of the game in regards to integration, Jackie was not ignorant to racism. His older brother was beat up by police because they thought he didn't have a license for seats to watch the Rose Parade.
As a student at Pasadena Junior College, Jackie was arrested after a police officer confronted him and a friend. While serving in the Army, he was arrested in 1944 after refusing to move to the back of a bus while sitting with the light-skinned wife of one of his fellow black officers. "He was Rosa Parks before Rosa Parks," writes LZ Granderson for the Los Angeles Times in his column honoring Robinson not only as a player, but as a freedom fighter.
After retiring in 1957, Robinson was freed up to focus on his family, his job as vice president at flourishing coffee company Chock Full o’Nuts — where he served as a human resources representative making sure the employees (which were predominately black) were treated fairly — and support of the Civil Rights movement, helping raise $1 million for the NAACP and hosting concerts to fundraise for the SCLC. The money was given to social justice activists when they were arrested and needed bail. He also attended the March on Washington where he was in attendance for Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech and wrote articles advocating equality for all.
Robinson died in 1972 at the young age of 53. But his legacy lives on by those who choose to walk in his footsteps of excellence, courage and justice.