Welcome to PEOPLE IN AMERICA, a program in Special
English on the Voice of America. Today Shirley Griffith and Rich Kleinfeldt
tell about a man who changed professional baseball in the United States. Jackie Roosevelt Robinson was the first black
man to play in modern major league baseball.
After World War Two, many Americans still
believed that people of different races should not mix.
In some parts of
the country, blacks and whites lived in separate areas and went to separate
schools. Blacks who tried to change the
system risked being beaten or killed.
Blacks were not permitted to play on
professional baseball teams or in any other major league sport. No black man had played for a major league
baseball team since eighteen eighty-four.
In that year, American baseball organizations agreed to bar blacks. That began changing when Jackie Robinson
played his first game for New York's Brooklyn Dodgers on April fifteenth,
Robinson grew up in a family of five children in Pasadena, California, near Los
Angeles. His father had left. His mother did not earn much money, so Jackie
Robinson learned to make his own way in life.
It was in California that Jackie Robinson first learned the ugliness of
racial hatred. White families who did
not want to live near them repeatedly tried to force them to move away.
Jackie Robinson established himself early as an
athlete. He was a star player while
attending the University of California at Los Angeles.
Jackie won honors in baseball, basketball, football and
track. He was named to the All-American football team. He was considered the best athlete on
America's west coast.
Robinson left college early because of financial problems. He joined the United
States Army in nineteen forty-one, during the Second World War. He became a lieutenant after boxing champion
Joe Louis pushed for Robinson to be trained as an officer. However, after three years, Robinson was
dismissed from the army because he objected to a racial order. He refused to move to the back of a bus.
In nineteen forty-five, there were not many
jobs open to a black man, even someone who had attended college. Robinson wanted to play professional
baseball. Blacks, however, were not
permitted to play in the major leagues. So, he decided to play with the Negro Baseball League. The Negro League teams were started in the nineteen
twenties to give black people a place to play baseball.
Many of the best baseball players in the
United States played in the Negro Leagues before white professional teams began
accepting black players. The skills and
records of black ball players were as good as major league white players. It was a hard life for Negro League
players. They took long trips by
bus. They changed clothes in farmhouses
and shared bath water with teammates.
Many eating places did not serve food to blacks. They had to eat outside or on the road. And they were not permitted to sleep at
hotels for whites. Many players slept on
Robinson played for the Kansas City Monarchs. It was one of the most famous baseball teams in the Negro League. But, he was unhappy in the Negro League
because of the difficult life there. In
a statement from the book "The History of Baseball, Nineteen-Oh-Seven," actor
Ossie Davis expresses hope for change in the sport.
OSSIE DAVIS: "Baseball should be taken seriously
by the colored player -- and in this effort of his great ability will open the
avenue in the near future wherein he may walk hand in hand with the opposite
race in the greatest of all American games -- baseball."
In nineteen forty-five, Jackie Robinson signed an
agreement with Branch Rickey to play for the 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 league.
He wanted a black player who would show restraint at
all times. Rickey 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. Jackie Robinson accepted that
condition. He said:
JACKIE ROBINSON: "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."
Some observers said that Jackie Robinson was not the
best player in the Negro Leagues. Others
said that he was chosen for his communications skills and educational level and
because he was an established sports star.
Faulkner wrote a book about Robinson's life. It is called "Great Time Coming: The Life of Jackie Robinson from
Baseball to Birmingham." In it, he talks
about the end of racial divisions in baseball.
DAVID FAULKNER: "For many years, there had been an
active campaign against segregated baseball led by Negro newspaper editors and,
strangely enough, by the Communist party, which from the middle nineteen thirties
on, had actively campaigned against segregated baseball. There were a number of pending bills in
different legislatures challenging fair employment practices. By nineteen forty-five, there was a lot of
heat in a lot of different areas -- professional baseball was certainly feeling
that. Robinson in a sense was the right
person at the right time."
Shortly after Jackie Robinson signed the agreement with
the Dodgers, he married Rachel Isum. They had three children. It was
important to Branch Rickey that Jackie Robinson be married. He thought that the public would accept
Robinson more quickly if he was married.
He thought that it would lessen the fears of white men that white women
would find Robinson desirable.
nineteen forty-six, Jackie Robinson began playing for the Dodgers' minor league
Canadian team, the Montreal Royals. During
that time, Branch Rickey tested Robinson's ability to deal with racial pressure
he would face in the major league.
In nineteen forty-seven, Jackie Robinson became the
first black to play modern major league baseball. He played for the Dodger's major league team,
New York's Brooklyn Dodgers. In doing
so, the pressure increased. He received
death threats on and off the field.
During games, pitchers threw the ball at his head. Several teams
threatened not to play against the Dodgers.
And, some of his own team members tried to have him banned from the
It was not easy for Robinson on road trips,
either. He was never permitted to stay
at the same hotels or eat in the same places as his white team members.
Jackie Robinson had difficulty on and off the
baseball field, but he did not let that interfere with his game. He was a great player and leader, winning the
National League's Most Valuable Player award in nineteen forty-nine. He also led the Brooklyn Dodgers to six
league championships and to baseball's World Series Championship in nineteen
Jackie Robinson helped show that blacks and whites
could live, work and play together. He
became a national hero to both black and white Americans because of his skill,
bravery and restraint. Robinson's success opened the door for other black
athletes to play on all-white professional teams. Soon, other blacks began to appear on
major-league teams. By the end of the nineteen fifties, every major league team
had black and Hispanic players.
Jackie Robinson retired from baseball in nineteen
fifty-six at the age of thirty-seven. He
became a businessman, a political activist and a strong supporter of civil
rights. In nineteen sixty-two, Jackie
Robinson was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame, an honor given only to baseball's
best players. He died in nineteen
seventy-two. He was fifty-three years
Special English program was written by Cynthia Kirk. It was produced and directed by Lawan
Davis. The announcers were Shirley
Griffith and Rich Kleinfeldt.
Mary Tillotson. Join us again next week
for another PEOPLE IN AMERICA program on the Voice of America.