January 31, 1865, was a busy day for the war-torn United States. The House of Representatives passed a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery. Meanwhile, Robert E. Lee was named general-in-chief of the Confederate armies.
On January 31, 1919—50 years to the day after slavery was abolished—Jackie Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia.
On April 10, 1947—82 years after the Civil War ended—Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball when he was signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers and became the first African American to play in the major leagues. He went to have a successful career in baseball and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. His number, 42, was retired in 1997.
After he retired from baseball, Robinson continued to fight for equal rights and treatment in other ways. The National Archives has some of his letters to politicians, including this letter to President Eisenhower.
Ninety-years after the 13th amendment was ratified, Robinson exercised his first amendment rights in the fight for civil rights.
Read more about Jackie Robinson and civil rights in two Prologue articles: “An Archival Odyssey: The Search for Jackie Robinson” (Summer 1997) and “Jim Crow, Meet Lieutenant Robinson: A 1944 Court-Martial” (Spring 2008). To find out about baseball-related records in the National Archives, check out “Beyond the Box Score” (Spring 2006).