Sixty-six years later, it’s impossible to imagine. The relentless taunting, the unconscionable slurs, the constant threats on his life.
Yet Jackie Robinson never buckled. He fought back by playing the game like a Hall of Famer. And, what is more, by showing unshakable poise and courage.
It was 1947, a year before Martin Luther King graduated from Morehouse College and eight years before Rosa Parks refused to budge. "Whites only" signs were all over the south, and the nonsensical phrase "separate but equal" was the law of the land.
In breaking Major League Baseball's color barrier, Robinson was under immense pressure. If he failed – either on the field or (worse) off it – who knows how long it would have been before another African-American was given the chance to play in the Major Leagues?
Many of his teammates didn’t want him there. Some threatened to strike rather than play on the same team as Robinson. Opposing players tried to hurt him (the Cardinals' Enos Slaughter opened a seven-inch gash by cleating him), and he was constantly told to “go back to the cotton fields” Or worse.
On April 15, he started at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He didn’t get a hit that day, but that was insignificant. Little by little, he won people over.
His teammates came to see not only a great ball player but a great teammate, a great man. His critics, however grudgingly, came to admire his courage.
Robinson was named Rookie of the Year in ’47. A year later, Larry Doby, Satchel Paige and other African-Americans joined the Majors. In ’49, Robinson made the All-Star game … on a vote of the fans. Five years after his retirement, he made Cooperstown on the first ballot.
Robinson’s legacy cannot be overstated. Noted historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said his “efforts were a monumental step in the Civil Rights revolution in America.”
Today is Jackie Robinson Day. Every player in the MLB will be wearing the number 42. And we all should remember a truly great man.
"42" is in the theaters now. Please, go see it.
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