Jackie Robinson was a baseball player with the Brooklyn Dodgers, who became the first African American to play for a major league baseball team. Robinson was born on January 31, 1919 in Cairo, Georgia and was the youngest of five children. He was raised by a single mother in difficult financial circumstances. He attended John Muir High School and Pasadena Junior College, where he was noted for being an outstanding athlete in football, basketball, track, and baseball. His older brother Matthew Robinson was a track star who won the silver medal at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.
Robinson then attended the University of California in Los Angeles, where he achieved the great honor of becoming the first athlete to win varsity letters in four sports. He was forced to leave college just before his graduation due to financial issues in 1941. From California, Robinson moved to Honolulu, Hawaii where he played football for a semi-professional team named Honolulu Bears. His career was cut short due to the outbreak of World War II. Enlisting in the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant, Robinson never went to combat but was arrested and court-martialed when he refused to give up his seat in a segregated bus. However, he was later acquitted and honorably discharged from the army due to the efforts of his friends, family and the National Association for Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Several newspapers carried the story of this injustice and highlighted Robinson’s tremendous athletic achievements.
Robinson began his career as a professional baseball player in 1944 with the Negro Leagues and then moved on to an all white team, the Montreal Royals which was a farm division of the Brooklyn Dodgers. This was unheard of at that time, when baseball was a segregated sport. The controversial decision was much talked about and Robinson knew it would not be easy to be part of a segregated sport. However, his strong personality and determination led him on and despite racial slurs and threats aimed at him and his family, Robinson continued to persevere in the face of opposition. He received immense support from Branch Rickey, the president of the Brooklyn Dodgers who trained Robinson to steel himself against the insults hurled at him. Robinson played his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, a historic game that marked the first time an African American athlete played for a major league baseball team.
Over the course of his decade long successful career, Robinson faced numerous personal difficulties coupled with enormous success. He won the Rookie of the Year award, as well as the National League’s Most Valuable Player award. He had an outstanding batting average and more steals than any other player in his team, yet he continued to be taunted by fans, critics and at times even his teammates. Other than Rickey, he had several other supporters as well, including Dodgers captain Pee Wee Reese, who, in an infamous gesture, put his arm around Robinson when he was being verbally assaulted by fans. Other supporters included Ford Frick, the president of the baseball league, Happy Chandler, the Baseball Commissioner and Hank Greenberg, a Jewish baseball star. Robinson helped his team to win several National Leagues as well as the World Series in 1955.
After his retirement from professional baseball, Robinson became a businessman, operating a chain of successful restaurants and coffee shops. He continued to advocate for social change and served on the board of the NAACP, along with being the first African American to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. He died on October 24, 1972 and after his death, his wife honored his memory by establishing the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which helps impoverished young people by providing scholarships and mentoring programs.