October 06, 2015 03:27 UTC


"42" Tells the Story of Jackie Robinson's Major League Breakthrough

Chadwick Boseman stars as baseball's Jackie Robinson.

Chadwick Boseman at the premiere of '42'.
Chadwick Boseman at the premiere of '42'.


Play or download an MP3 of this story

Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.

I’m June Simms.
On April 15, 1947 Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to play in a major league baseball game. A Hollywood movie that tells the story of this historic event is now opening across America. Today we talk about the movie, play music from it and remember the man who broke baseball’s color barrier.
The new film is called “42.” That was Jackie Robinson’s number when he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Major League baseball officials retired the number in 1997. As a result, no player today can use it. Kelly Jean Kelly tells about how Jackie Robinson earned this rare honor.
In the 1940s, many Americans believed that people of different races should not mix. In much of the country, blacks and whites lived in separate areas and went to separate schools. Blacks who attempted to change the system risked being beaten or killed.
Blacks were not permitted to play with whites on professional baseball teams or in any other major sport. Blacks played in the Negro League, a professional baseball organization created in the 1920s.
Jackie Robinson grew up in Pasadena, California, near Los Angeles. He was one of five children in his family. He established himself as an athlete at an early age. He starred in several sports while attending the University of California at Los Angeles.
In 1941, Jackie Robinson joined the United States Army. He became an officer. But he was dismissed from the army because he objected to an order from a higher officer. Robinson had been ordered to move to the back of a bus because he was black. He refused.
Jackie Robinson wanted to play professional baseball. So, he joined the Negro Leagues.     
Many of the best baseball players in the United States played in the Negro Leagues. The skills and records of black ball players were as good as white players in the major leagues. 
Jackie Robinson played for the Kansas City Monarchs. It was one of the most famous teams in the Negro Leagues. But, he was not happy. White players made more money and had better working conditions.
Jackie Robinson and Brooklyn Dodgers President Branch Rickey sign player's agreementJackie Robinson and Brooklyn Dodgers President Branch Rickey sign player's agreement
Jackie Robinson and Brooklyn Dodgers President Branch Rickey sign player's agreement
Jackie Robinson and Brooklyn Dodgers President Branch Rickey sign player's agreement
In 1945, Jackie Robinson signed an agreement with Branch Rickey to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Rickey was president of the team. He wanted to find a black player who could deal with the insults and racial pressure he would face in the major leagues. 
Rickey wanted a black player who would show restraint at all times. He thought Jackie Robinson was good enough as a player and strong enough as a person to succeed. He made Robinson promise that he would never show his anger on the baseball field. Robinson accepted that condition. He spoke later. 
"I knew that I was going to be somewhat out front and perhaps, I would have to take a lot of abuse. I knew that this was bigger than any one individual and I would have to do whatever I possibly could to control myself."

Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier when he played in his first Major League game in 1947. The Negro Leagues ended in the late 1950s because more and more blacks were playing in the major leagues, thanks to Jackie Robinson.
The great American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., praised Robinson’s efforts, calling him, “a legend and symbol in his own time.”
Brian Helgeland wrote and directed the movie “42.” His earlier films include “L.A. Confidential,” “Conspiracy Theory,” and “Man on Fire.” His movies generally combine suspense, mystery and action.
“42” is quieter. But Brian Helgeland says he does not see a big difference. “I just thought of it all as filmmaking,” he says.
He also says it was Jackie Robinson’s story that got him interested in the project. He told reporters he was struck by Robinson’s bravery. As the filmmaker said, “you can write all the superhero movies there are in the world, and you wouldn’t come close.”
He noted that it was very important to get the right actor to play Jackie Robinson. He chose Chadwick Boseman instead of a more famous actor. Brian Helgeland said Boseman took artistic risks when he tried out for the part. “I thought that was brave, and he had to play a brave guy, so that was all I needed to know about him,” said the director.
Chadwick Boseman says Jackie Robinson’s wife, Rachel, was a big help to him in playing the part. He met with her many times. The actor said it was not as much what she said to him that made the difference. He said he could sense the presence of the former star player around Rachel Robinson. “His spirit is still present with her. I could feel the edges of him,” he said.
Harrison Ford plays Branch Rickey. Ford said he was not really interested in baseball growing up. He said this role was a study for him.
“That song is Take me Out to the Ballgame.” It is among the songs features on the “42” Soundtrack. Avi Arditti plays a few others for us.
There are a few songs about baseball in the new movie about Jackie Robinson. But the soundtrack also contains songs that symbolize the time period in which the baseball player made his breakthrough. “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” is a 1940 hit from Duke Ellington.
“42” is also a love story. It shows the passionate and deeply loyal relationship between Jackie Robinson and his wife Rachel. The movie makers included Billie Holiday’s “Lover Man” in the movie.
“Straighten Up and Fly Right” certainly could be a song about baseball. But it is actually a black folk tale that singer Nat King Cole’s father, a Christian clergyman, used in some of his services.
And, no movie about baseball and civil rights should be without this song, “Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball” performed by Count Basie and his Orchestra.

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Naoto
04/18/2013 6:51 PM
I thougt I want to watch 42.

In Response

by: Dorcas from: China
04/19/2013 3:30 AM
I want to listen to some news to improve my listening.

04/18/2013 6:49 PM
It was interisting story. i really enjoed with it. the story is talking about secsacful person. he made his way to making his life.

by: Francisco from: Chile
04/18/2013 3:01 AM
It was a very good article, I'm glad to read article like this.

by: David liu from: Taiwan
04/18/2013 2:52 AM
Dear VOA : Why some topic such as springtime in D.C and this topic can not download pdf file?

by: Pascual from: Venezuela
04/12/2013 6:48 PM
It was an excellent article, I would like to see more about sports heroes. Thanks for the pleasure.

Learn with The News

  • Trade ministers from a dozen Pacific nations in Trans-Pacific Partnership Ministers meeting post in TPP Ministers "Family Photo" in Atlanta, Georgia, October 1, 2015.

    Audio Twelve Countries Reach Trans-Pacific Partnership Deal

    For the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal to take effect, the agreement needs approval from national legislatures in all 12 countries. Completion of the deal is a major foreign policy victory for U.S. President Barack Obama. However, U.S. congressional approval of the deal is not guaranteed. More

  • Nobel prize in Medicine - winners

    Audio Ireland, Japan, China Scientists Share Nobel Prize for Medicine

    The first of the 2015 Nobel Prizes has been announced. The committee awarded the prize to scientists from Ireland, Japan and China for discoveries that will reduce death and suffering. For one of these countries, it is a first-ever win. More

  • In this photo made from the footage taken from Russian Defense Ministry official web site on Oct. 4, 2015, an aerial view of a bomb explosion in Syria.

    Audio Western Nations Criticize Russia’s Air Campaign in Syria

    Western military experts have studied video recordings and said Russia is mostly using unguided, or dumb, bombs. Experts say such weapons greatly increase the risk of damage and death in civilian areas. Russia began the airstrikes September 30. More

  • Video US Promises to Investigate Afghan Hospital Attack

    The aid group Doctors Without Borders says at least 22 people died in the attack in Kunduz. Afghan officials say Taliban fighters were hiding in a hospital and on its grounds. But the Taliban and Doctors Without Borders say that is not true. More

  • New Zealand Marine Reserve

    Audio New Zealand To Establish Massive Marine Reserve

    Marine reserves are special places offer great opportunities to see rare and abundant sea creatures and environments. The Kermedec Sanctuary will cover 620 thousand square kilometers of largely clean ocean. It will be one of the largest marine reserves to protect wildlife in the South Pacific. More

Featured Stories

  • Video Know Your Enemy

    Do you have an enemy? Hopefully, you don’t. An enemy is someone who hates you and you hate them back. An enemy threatens you, attacks you or tries to harm you. In some languages, there are different words for a personal enemy versus an enemy of war, political enemy or enemy of the state. More

  • Audio Everyday Grammar: Comparatives and Superlatives

    When we want to compare things we use comparative and superlative forms. Find out some of rules and exceptions of these important forms in Everyday Grammar for this week. More

  • Video ‘The Martian’ Mixes Science, Science Fiction

    Hollywood's latest space operation gone wrong movie stars Matt Damon as an astronaut mistakenly left on Mars. The film is a hit with movie critics. But what do science critics think? More

  • The Open Boat by Stephen Crane, Part 2

    Video The Open Boat by Stephen Crane, Part Two

    We continue the story of “The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane. As we told you last week, the story is based on true events. In eighteen ninety-six, Crane was traveling to Cuba as a news reporter. On his way there, his ship sank in the Atlantic Ocean. Crane climbed into the last remaining lifeboat. More

  • Audio Great Barrier Reef Choking on Pollutants

    The Great Barrier Reef is off the coast of Queensland in northeastern Australia. It is the largest living organism on Earth. However, the reef is being damaged by climate change and pollutants from farms that flow into the reef. More

Practice Your Writing

Confessions of an English Learner
Confessions of an English Learner blog

Tell us About Our Programs