One Giant Step for Humankind
75 years ago, on an April afternoon in Brooklyn, life in America changed. Jack Roosevelt Robinson stepped across the chalk onto Ebbets Field becoming the first African American to play for an MLB team in the modern era. From that moment on Jackie Robinson would be forever known as the man to "break the color barrier".
In the late 1800's the organization of MLB decided upon a "Gentleman's Agreement" banning players of color from playing on any white professional team. This racial discrimination ultimately led to the founding of the Negro Leagues. On February 13, 1920 the charter for the Negro National League was signed by 8 team owners at the Paseo YMCA in Kansas City, MO. Rube Foster organized the league. For many years they ran successful teams full of incredible talent that rivaled their white counterparts.
The Negro League games drew lots of fans and filled stadiums which was what ultimately enticed Branch Rickey to sign a Black player. Rickey was more progressive in his thinking than many regarding civil rights, but the bottom line was he saw the potential bankroll he could make by attracting the Black fanbase to Dodgers games if they had a Black player.
When Jackie signed the contract with Rickey he understood his responsibility to show his talent as a player and his strength to keep quiet while people verbally and physically assaulted him. Part of his contract was that he agreed to not fight back for the first season in MLB. This was critically important for both sides if it were to be a success. Had Jackie fought back he would have been destroyed by the press and the fans and this "experiment" would have been doomed to fail. Jackie needed to rise above the indignities aimed at him and prove his value as a player. This would ultimately pave the way for other players of color and bring people together regardless of race.
Jackie Robinson proved to not only be a good ballplayer, but a great player and an even more impactful human being. He won many awards and accolades, but the lasting impact he envisioned was as an advocate and activist for civil rights. He used his platform to fight for equality and create opportunities where they hadn't existed before. He recognized the value of education and stood up for causes he believed in on and off the field.
The responsibility and burden that he carried most likely caused him to live to a mere 53 years old. But he made the most of those 53 years and changed not only the game of baseball, but America.
Here are 3 of our favorite Jackie Robinson quotes:
“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”
“The right of every American to first-class citizenship is the most important issue of our time.”
“Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life.”
Photos from April 15, 1947 Before the game and walking home after the game.