We’re wrapping up African American History Month. Visit the National Archives website for more information on our resources related to African American History. Today’s post comes from James Worsham, editor in the Communications and Marketing Division of the National Archives.
Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play in modern major league baseball, would have been 100 years old this year.
The man who broke the color barrier in baseball became a historic figure in the national pastime not only for ending segregation in the majors but for his prowess on the field as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
After World War II, at the invitation of Branch Rickey, then president and general manager of the Dodgers, Robinson joined the Dodgers organization but faced hostility from other players as well as from fans. His performance on the field, however, made him one of baseball’s top players.
But Robinson had faced hostility before his baseball career—in the Army during World War II.
In 1944, as a second lieutenant, Robinson was assigned to Fort Hood, TX. One day in July 1944, he boarded a bus at Fort Hood, only to be told by the driver to take a seat in the back.
Robinson refused. He was arrested and charged with multiple offenses. After being court-martialed and acquitted (charged only with insubordination), he left the Army later that year, and after the war accepted an invitation from the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League to play baseball.
Several years later, after Rickey had brought Robinson into the Dodgers organization as a member of one of its farm clubs, Rickey made his move. He felt that Robinson could withstand the racial hostility that he would face as an African American to wearing a major league baseball uniform. In 1947, Robinson became a Dodger.
He did face hostility—from the fans and from players on opposing teams, but he kept his cool as Rickey hoped he would.
Robinson had an exceptional career. He won baseball’s first-ever Rookie of the Year award and played in six World Series, which the Dodgers won in 1955, defeating the Yankees. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. He retired from baseball after 10 seasons with the Dodgers and died in 1972 of a heart attack at age 53.
For a full account of Robinson’s court-martial, go to: “Jim Crow, Meet Lieutenant Robinson: A 1944 Court-Martial.”
To learn about the search for records about Robinson, read, “An Archival Odyssey: The Search for Jackie Robinson.”
For an overview of baseball records in the National Archives, read, “Beyond the Box Score.”
You can also look at the Official Military Personnel File for Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson which is housed in the National Archives.