Since the beginning of the 19th century, African Americans throughout the USA were excluded from the Major League Baseball. Racial segregation made people with black skin play baseball independently within the so-called Negro leagues. However, the situation changed when in 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier by joining the Brooklyn Dodgers and became the first African American to be invited to the all-white team. Nowadays, the life of this player is considered a symbol of struggle against racism and prejudice in the United States of America.
Baseball was the favorite past-time for Americans since 1860s. By 1890, African Americans suffered from racism and Jim Crow laws that eventually led to the segregation in many aspects of life, including baseball. Baseball team owners agreed not to hire black-skinned players, and as a result, African Americans formed their own teams and leagues. By 1990s, there were several baseball leagues created by African Americans. The Cuban Giants, the first known black professional baseball team, was formed in 1885 in New York. Its success contributed to the creation of the National Colored Baseball League, which eventually fell due to financial problems. Later in 1920, Andrew Foster, a former baseball player and the owner of Chicago American Giants, organized Negro National League. Numerous rival leagues formed all over the USA became the pride of the black communities.
Speaking about the life in Negro League it should be mentioned that it was not easy. Players had to work hard in order to earn some money. They travelled a lot and were paid very little. African Americans were not allowed to spend time in the restaurants or hotels that served white customers. Despite all the problems, they did not stop. All the players loved the game and did their best no matter what. Negro League showed great teamwork and impressed the spectators with their unique style of play and their devotion to the game they played. African American players survived through the troubles and consequences of the Great Depression and World War II. Since 1947, when Jackie Robinson broke the color line by joining Dodgers, Major League began to invite baseball stars of the Negro League teams. Eventually, many of them went out of business.
After the World War II, many representatives of the Major League Baseball wanted to do away with segregation, but the first one who succeeded was Branch Rickey, the general manager of Brooklyn Dodgers. The situation has changed forever when Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson signed a contract that would allow the first African American to play for the Major League.
Branch Rickey studied the field and did everything to find an African American who would be able not to be just a perfect athlete, but the one who would withstand all the problems that waited for a first black-skinned player in the all-white team. He looked for a strong personality that could avoid confrontation and was ready to deal with hostility and discrimination. Jackie Robinson turned out to be such a player.
Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born in 1919 in Cairo, Georgia. During his studies in school and college, Robinson played football, basketball, baseball, and track. Jackie became the first student of University of California who won varsity letters in four different sports at the same time. In 1941, he was forced to leave the university and to serve in the U.S. Army during the World War II.
Robinson began to play baseball professionally after his discharge from the Army in 1944. For one season, he played in the Negro American League, but soon he was chosen to be the one to break the color barrier in baseball. First, he became a player of a farm team Montreal Royals, which was all-white. Everyone was aware that there would be very difficult times for the young man. Rickey made Robinson promise not to fight back when confronted with hostility or racism. Really, the cases of discrimination were numerous, but the will of Robinson passed all the tests. He met opponents even among his teammates. Robinson and his family even received threats several times. Despite abuse and hostility, the player’s start was brilliant. He as was agreed fought back not with his fist, but with outstanding play and strong will. After a year, he was promoted to the Dodgers, and his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers was played in April of 1947. Many influential white people, including Dodgers manager Leo Durocher and team captain Pee Wee Reese, supported Robinson.
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Eventually, Jackie Robinson managed to overcome all the troubles related to racism and proved that the race did not matter. He proved that a talented player with strong will and desire to win was able to cope with everything. Robinson was selected as Rookie of the Year and earned the Most Valuable Player Award. He responded to his offenders with perfect play. One of Robinson’s teammates once said: “I’ve often said that it changed baseball, but it also changed the country and eventually changed the world. … Jackie made it easier for Rosa Parks. He made it easier for Martin Luther King Jr. And he made it easier for any black leader who was going to strive for racial equality. It basically changed the attitude of the whole country as far as looking at blacks.”
In the decade-long career, Robinson and Dodgers won the National League pennant several times. In 1955, Dodgers achieved the victory in the World Series. Jackie Robinson retired in 1957. After baseball, the man dealt with business and worked as an activist. He died in 1972 at the age of 52 due to heart problems.
By breaking the color line, Jack Robinson started the long-lasting process of integration. Being recruited as an experiment of Branch Rickey, general manager and president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, he proved that he was mentally ready for all the problems that waited to the first African American in the Major League Baseball. By playing in all-white team, Robinson proved that blacks and whites can coexist. This player’s legacy is the inspiration he gives to sportsmen of different nationalities and races. His breaking the color barrier in baseball is the symbol of America’s struggle with racism and segregation as well as hope that one day, all the people will be treated equally regardless of their skin’s color.