For those that saw the movie 42, staring journeyman actor Chadwick Boseman, you know that as a baseball movie it was geared exclusively towards Jackie Robinson’s journey to his first start for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. That marked the end of racial segregation in professional baseball that held Black players to the Negro Leagues since the 1880s.
Robinson is a perfect illustration of a strong black man, willing to take detours to make things work, meanwhile, having his eyes on the prize.
Robinson enrolled at John Muir School (Muir Tech) in 1935. His athletic talents were immediately highlighted as were his brothers. His athletic career was actually motivated by his older brother Mack, who was a silver medalist at the 1936 Summer Olympics and his other older brother Frank.
While at Muir Tech, Robinson played various sports at the varsity level and lettered four; football, basketball, track, and baseball. He was the baseball teams shortstop and catcher, the quarterback on the football team and was a guard on the basketball team. He did broad jump in track and also played on the school’s tennis team.
With all that he accomplished in high school, you’d assume he’d go on to make an immediate impact at a big college. That wasn’t the case whatsoever. Robinson attended Pasadena Junior College, where he continued his athletic career in football, basketball, track, and baseball. He went on to break the school’s broad-jump records that were previously held by his brother Mack.
Robinson was set for deployment until he fractured his ankle while playing football at the junior college. In 1938, he was elected into the All-Southland College Team in baseball and was also selected as the region’s MVP.
After Robinson graduated from PJC, he enrolled at UCLA in 1939 and became the first athlete, white, black or otherwise, that lettered in four sports: baseball, basketball, football, and track.
During his senior year at UCLA, Jackie met his future wife, Rachel Isum, a freshman. Robinson then left college as a senior to pursue the workforce, which was against his mother and Isum’s wishes. He ended up taking a job as an assistant athletic director with the National Youth Administration in Atascadero, CA.
Work and military career:
That was also short-lived for Robinson. After the government discontinued NYA operations, Robinson returned to sports, where he played semi-professional football for the racially integrated Honolulu Bears. After one short year in Hawaii, Robinson returned to California where he’d play running back for the Los Angeles Bulldogs of the Pacific Coast Football League.
That was 1941, going into 1942 and if you know anything about history you’ll realize that was when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor took place, drawing the U.S. into World War II, which effectively ended Robinson’s budding football career.
Robinson was originally assigned to Fort Riley, KS and one year later were moved to Fort Hood, TX where he’d also spend a short amount of time. After boarding a bus in Fort Hood, the driver instructed Robinson to move to the back of the bus and he refused. That was the beginning of the derailment of his military career. After being transferred yet again to Kentucky to serve as a coach for army athletics, he received an honorable discharged months later.
Robinson returned back to athletics early in 1945 when he received a written offer to play with the Negro League’s Kansas City Monarchs. He accepted the contract for $400 per month. However, despite playing exceptionally well for the Monarchs, Robinson grew frustrated with the Negro Leagues. The culture of gambling was against Robinson’s beliefs and the constant disorganization of the league, more specifically travel, messed with his relationship with Isum. Their relationship got to a point where they were only able to communicate through letters.
Robinson played 47 games for the Monarchs, hit .387 with five home runs and registered 13 stolen bases. He also appeared in the 1945 East-West All-Star game.
After a failed attempt with the Boston Red Sox, who couldn’t get past Robinson’s color, Branch Rickey, club president, and general manager for the Brooklyn Dodgers scouted the Negro Leagues for the possible addition to their roster and he chose Robinson. He gave Robinson a chance with Brooklyn’s International League farm club, the Montreal Royals.
Rickey ultimately wanted to ensure that Robinson could withstand the racial beating he’d take if he was eventually signed to the club. That’s when the infamous three-hour meeting took place. Rickey brought up Robinson’s run-in with the military police as result of the bus situation.
Are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?” said Robinson. Rickey replied that he needed a Negro player “with guts enough not to fight back.”
Robinson eventually concurred, and later signed a contract worth $600 per month, which would be $8,350 today.
You know the rest of the story. After a short, rough and controversial stint through the minors, Robinson was brought up to the majors to meet more controversy, but during the 1947 season, the Brooklyn Dodgers started him at first base and the rest is history.
Robinson spent over a decade finding a path that was best suited for him. This speaks to the Black men of today that are still trying to find a way in an industry that isn’t necessarily geared towards diversity. Instead of giving up on dreams, your job is to continue to fight in order to reach them. There’s no man that can make or break the path that God has set out for you. Just see the roadblocks as obstacles that you have to get past.
Jackie Robinson set the example for future black professionals.