42 - Jackie Robinson - BREAKING the COLOR LINE

BREAKING the COLOR LINE (Illustration) American History African American History Censorship Civil Rights Famous Historical Events Famous People Social Studies Trials Sports

Baseball was not the only thing which occupied Jack Robinson's attention in 1946.  That was also the year he married Rachel Isum.  This photo depicts the Robinsons on their wedding day.  Image online, courtesy Robinson Foundation. Click on it for a better view.


On the 28th of August, 1945 - a few weeks after two atomic bombs exploded in Japan - Jackie Robinson met Branch Rickey.  He wasn't exactly sure why he'd been invited to Rickey's Brooklyn office, located at 215 Montague Street.

The Dodgers' president and general manager knew that Robinson was a very good ballplayer.  But ... was he "A Man?"  Was he "The Man" for whom Rickey was searching?

Jackie had grown-up around people with racist attitudes.  He'd been taunted as a boy.  He was court-martialed, on two frivolous charges, as an Army officer.  His whole life he'd forged his own way by being strong.  He kept his dignity by being forceful.  He knew how to fight-back ... and did. 

Now ... Mr. Rickey told him ... he could no longer fight back.

To make his point, the Dodger's president took out a book, by Giovanni Papini, which had been published in 1920.  He started reading, aloud, to his guest:

There are three answers which men can make to violence:  revenge, flight, turning the other cheek.

The first is the barbarous principle of retaliation ... Flight is no better than retaliation ... The man who takes flight invites pursuit ... His weakness becomes the accomplice of the ferocity of others ... Turning the other cheek means not receiving the second blow.  It means cutting the chain of the inevitable wrongs at the first link.  Your adversary is ready for anything but this ...  (See article in Ebony magazine, November 1968, at page 160.)

What was Branch Rickey telling Jackie Robinson?  That he had to turn the other cheek when people threw baseballs at his head?  That he couldn't get angry when someone pushed their spiked shoes into his body?  That he had to look away when someone screamed racial slurs at him or spit on him?

The gist of Rickey's message was clear:   It's against your nature to turn the other cheek, but that's what you have to do.  You have no choice.

Jackie began to sense that something more was at stake than just selling tickets to a baseball game.  He began to realize that he could be part of changing history in America:

He had me transfixed as he spoke.  I could feel his sincerity, and I began to get a sense of how much this major step meant to him.  Because of his nature and his passion for justice, he had to do what he was doing.  He continued.  The rumbling voice, the theatrical gestures were gone.  He was speaking from a deep, quiet strength.  (I Never Had It Made, page 32.)

What did he tell Jackie?

"Mr. Rickey," I asked, "are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?"

I never will forget the way he exploded.

"Robinson," he said, "I'm looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back." (I Never Had It Made, page 33.)

Those words must have reminded Jackie of Carl Anderson, the advice-giver of his youth.

Robinson agreed that he would not fight back for three years.  First he spent a season (1946) with the Dodgers' top farm club (the Montreal Royals).  Then ...  when Brooklyn's new first baseman walked onto Ebbets Field on the 15th of April, 1947 ... he broke baseball's color line

Wendell Smith, sports writer for the Pittsburgh Courier, wrote an article about "Robbie's" debut.  An African-American, like Jackie, Wendell faced his own sports-world discrimination.  Among other things, he could not share pressroom space with white journalists.

The Dodgers' highly respected captain - Pee Wee Reese - knew about racial cruelties since he'd witnessed such things growing-up in the South.  When he walked over to Jackie (his team mate) and put his arm around him - despite racial heckling by a Boston crowd and Red-Sox players - he helped to demolish baseball's color line.

When the Brooklyn Dodgers played better ball than they had before, with Robinson as part of the roster, they helped to further demolish baseball's color line.

Branch Rickey had picked the right man for the right team.  For ten years, including when his mentor was no longer with the Dodgers, Jackie Robinson proved Rickey right.

Then ... before the 1957 season ...  Robinson retired from baseball.  He became an executive with a company called "Chock Full O' Nuts," had an interview with LOOK magazine and turned his attention to other important matters. (Don't miss the linked "Bio Channel" video which features Jackie's commentary about highlights of his life.)

One of the most important issues of the time, as far as Jackie was concerned, was the civil rights of all African-Americans.

0 Question or Comment?
click to read or comment
3 Questions 2 Ponder
click to read and respond
0 It's Awesome!
vote for your favorite

Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Apr 01, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Feb 07, 2018

To cite this story (For MLA citation guidance see easybib or OWL ):

"BREAKING the COLOR LINE" AwesomeStories.com. Apr 01, 2013. Feb 27, 2020.
Awesome Stories Silver or Gold Membership Required
Awesome Stories Silver or Gold Membership Required
Show tooltips