Jack Roosevelt Robinson. The name is synonymous with baseball, with racial equality in the United States of America, and with strong character, bravery, and the ability to overcome all obstacles and barriers. On April 15, 1947, by breaking Major League Baseball’s colour barrier, Jackie Robinson paved the way for generations of black, Latino, and other minority groups to play sports of all kinds. He truly was a trailblazer.
It was only thirteen years prior that an anti-lynching law was proposed by the United States Senate. However much President Franklin Roosevelt may have wanted to pass this piece of legislation, it was unsuccessful, largely because of the power of Southern Democratic lawmakers who threatened withdrawing support for President Roosevelt in the 1936 election.
It is hard to believe that by 1947 baseball, a sport that had so vigorously denied the rights of blacks to play in the league, had conceded. There was never any written rule against permitting black people from playing in Major League Baseball but rather it was a gentlemen’s agreement amongst the owners and the Commissioner that African-Americans would be denied the opportunity to show that they belonged.
It took the courageous actions of Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, to do what was right and just, and give a black man the opportunity to show that he belonged in the Big Leagues. Rickey and Robinson worked together to show baseball and the United States that African-Americans, when given the opportunity to succeed, could do so.
But while Branch Rickey may have orchestrated the breaking down of the colour barrier, it was Jackie Robinson who stood on the field. He stood on the field, on the precipice of history, when opposing teams threatened to boycott games played against him, when opposing fans hurled vicious names towards him, and when his own teammates threatened to not play if Jackie Robinson, a black man, was to be on the same field as them.
It was the courage, determination, and skill that Jackie Robinson possessed that allowed him to succeed and change baseball, sport, and the American landscape forever.