In my house there hangs an autographed picture of Jackie Robinson. In my dorm, a similar picture hangs un-autographed. My father got the autograph from Jackie himself when he was a young boy. The picture, and more importantly the man, has become a cherished name in my household. One day the goal myself is to hang that picture on my wall and continue our tradition of honoring an American Hero. Jackie of course is a different kind of American Hero. He was the first African-American in major league baseball history. He was an American Hero in many ways besides just being the first African American in baseball. He was a three-sport star at UCLA, he was an officer in the United States military, the first African-American baseball Hall-of-Famer and the first African-American to be the vice-president of a major company (Chock-Ful-O-Nuts). Of course these are just the statistics and the dry facts; the man Jackie Robinson transcended his accomplishments.
He was one of America’s toughest men. Wherever he went as a young man and an adult, hatred followed him. From his early days in Georgia to better, but still prejudiced years in Pasadena, California the prejudices of his day landed on Robinson. In the Military, he was the subject of abuse from his white colleagues and was court-martialed for refusing to move to the back of a military bus. He was acquitted after being brought up on a slew of charges including public drunkenness, although he didn’t drink. He received racist abuse in the Major Leagues as well, often finding death threats when walking into opposing ballparks and being called the N-word.
There were many of his own Southern teammates who signed a petition trying to prevent him from playing.
Yet imagine the excitement of little kids in Brooklyn when they saw him play and explode on the base paths. For children everywhere for generations he was an inspiration. Especially to a little jewish child in Brooklyn named Steven Klipstein. Even with adoration from all of New York, the hatred he received for being a famous Black-Man in America was incredible.
He published these happenings in his autobiography late in his life. He was discussing playing in the World Series when he said this “There I was, the black grandson of a slave, the son of a black sharecropper, part of a historic occasion, a symbolic hero to my people. The air was sparkling. The sunlight was warm. The band struck up the national anthem. The flag billowed in the wind. It should have been a glorious moment for me as the stirring words of the national anthem poured from the stands. Perhaps, it was, but then again, perhaps, the anthem could be called the theme song for a drama called The Noble Experiment. Today, as I look back on that opening game of my first World Series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama and that I was only a principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made”..
Jackie may have been too hard on himself. He may not have had it made, but he played a key role in the Civil Rights movement. He brought the dreams to so many other young black men, who before him, had no chance to dream. Because of his courage, his inner fire and his talent as one of the 20th centuries greatest athletes, there was a Hank Aaron and a Willie Mays and a Barry Bonds.
Even being one of the most famous and influential Americans in the 20th century, it was hard to do what he did. Jackie’s words and legacy will always continue on in this country though. Whether it is on the wall of the Klipstein household, or on U.S postage stamps, or MLB’s Jackie Robinson day and most obviously, in the actions of contemporary black athletes, Jackie changed American history. That said, Robinson presented us with a cause that is always worth fighting for and he was the best man to go and fight this fight.