Robinson was born Jack Roosevelt Robinson on January 31, 1919 in Cairo, GA. His single mother, Mallie Robinson, raised him and his 4 older siblings. Robinson excelled in sports in his early years. While attending John Muit High School, he played football, basketball, and baseball. He was named MVP in the region in 1938. His older brother, Matthew, inspired him to pursue his talent and love for sports.
Robinson attended University of California in Los Angeles, where he became the first student to receive varsity letters in four sports. In 1941, he was forced to leave the university due to financial difficulties. He played football in Honolulu, HI with the Honolulu Bears until World War II. He decided to enlist in the U.S. Army and served as a second lieutenant for two years, but was arrested for not giving into racial discrimination. He was acquitted for the charges and received honorable discharge in 1944. Robinson began to play baseball professionally.
The league was segregated at the time; African Americans and whites played on separate teams. While playing in the Negro leagues, Branch Rickey, a vice president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, chose him to help integrate major league baseball. Robinson trained with the all white Montreal Royals in 1945 and played his first game with them in 1946. Despite the racial abuse, Robinson had an excellent start with the Royals leading them with a .349 batting average and a .985 field percentage. This led to his start with the Dodgers. His debut game was April 15, 1947, which marked the first time an African American played in the major leagues.
Robinson married Rachel Isum in 1946 and had three children together. They provided Robinson with the emotional support and sense of purpose for bearing the pressures of his early years. Robinson succeeded in putting the prejudice and racial strife aside. He hit 12 home runs in his first year, helping the Dodgers win the National League pennant. He had a batting average of .342 during the 1949 season. He became the highest paid athlete in Dodgers history. His success helped open doors for other African American players such as Satchel Paige, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.
After baseball, Robinson became active in business and continued to work as an activist for social change. He died from heart troubles on October 24, 1972. After his death, his wife established the Jackie Robinson Foundation dedicated to honoring his life and work by providing mentoring programs and scholarships. The 50th Anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s major league baseball’s color barrier was celebrated in 1997.
(Courtesy Asante Foundation)