Jackie Robinson: Baseball Player and Civil Rights Activist?
Baseball player And Civil Rights Activist? By: Moni Swed Thesis Paper Jackie Robinson, an icon, a civil rights activist, a political leader, a man who helped change American society. Jackie Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia on January 31st, 1919 and died October 24, 1972. Even though his life was cut short to 53 years, Robinson accomplished goals that very few people would be able to accomplish; he was the first black man to play the game of baseball in the major league. This had a tremendous impact on American society.
Throughout his lifetime, Jackie faced many adversities, as did everybody who had black skin. During the 1900s, African Americans faced discrimination and segregation. Whites and blacks would attend different schools, drink from different water fountains, eat in different restaurants, stay in different hotels, sit in different parts of the bus etc. This is the world Jackie grew up in. As world war two came to an end in 1945, African Americans were no longer content with being second class citizens as many of them have put their lives on the line fighting for this country.
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Jackie Robinson was among those who fought in Vietnam and spent his time playing for the Negro baseball leagues while he was not sacrificing his life for our country. Branch Rickey, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers at the time is the one who founded the Negro leagues in 1945. Although it was never thought of as a serious league and does not have any records of games played, Branch used the league in order to quietly scout black talent in order to challenge segregation in the major leagues.
This is how he found Jackie Robinson, one of the best players in the Negro league. Branch offered Jackie a once in a lifetime opportunity to play for the Dodgers. However, he made it clear to Jackie that he was going to hear a lot of very racist remarks by not only the fans, but opposing players as well. Both Branch and Jackie understood that this was a very delicate situation, not only was Jackie going to have to maintain his composure when it would come to racist remarks, death threats and balls thrown at his head by opposing pitchers, but the whole African American society was depending on him to be able to compete against whites because this would set the table for other black people trying to play baseball on the professional level. It would prove to white people that black people can compete with white people not only in baseball, but in every other aspect as well. Jackie did more than just compete, he became one of the best in the business, in his first season as a Brooklyn Dodger, he won rookie of the year and in 1949, he won the batting title leading the league with a . 342 batting average. He was selected to six consecutive all star games and won the NL MVP in 1949, the same year he won the batting title. This eventually proved everybody who thought black people could not compete with white people in anything wrong. Branch Rickey signing Jackie Robinson, also influenced other team owners to sign black players; Larry Doby was the next African American baseball player to be signed by the Cleveland Indians just a couple months later in July of 1947, then came Hank Thompson for the St.
Louis Browns less than 2 weeks later, then Monte Irvin for the New York Giants two years later, and so on. Blacks did not only gain opportunity of baseball, but Jackie made it that black people would be looked at as people that can live up to the same potential that everybody else can in many other aspects. Jackie Robinson’s prominence as a black athlete increased his credibility as a political activist, which made it easier for him to be a part of the civil rights movement. Jackie Robinson provided black people with more opportunities by breaking the color barrier and performing the way he did.
“Naturally, the good things of the game seem especially gratifying to a big leaguer who, as a boy, probably assumed his color would make it impossible for him to even enjoy them” (Briley, 93). The idea that it seemed almost impossible for a black kid to ever join the major leagues at one point, and then have Jackie come into the big picture proving that blacks can compete with whites, makes the game that much better. It proved to America that no matter what race or background, everybody has the same ability and can live up to their potential.
There was still a lot of racism and criticism but Jackie’s courage helped make a huge difference in American society and took our country a step ahead in terms of equality. Hank Aaron stated, “Before Jackie Robinson broke the color line, I wasn’t permitted to even think about being a professional ball player. I once mentioned something to my father about, and he said, ‘Ain’t no colored ball players. ’ All that changed when Jackie put number 42 and started stealing bases in a Brooklyn uniform”(Cook, 4)).
Before Jackie took the field, young black children everywhere including Hank Aaron believed that they would never be able to play baseball. Society was unfair to blacks and did not give them the same opportunities that whites had. At that time in history, black people were not equal to whites; they were dehumanized due to the thought that they were less important, less intelligent as well as less worthy. Because of this they were hardly aloud to walk in the same surroundings as white people without being abused whether it was verbally or physically.
Suddenly, after Jackie put on that Brooklyn Dodger uniform and proved himself, it proved other black people would be able to do this as well and it gave people like Hank Aaron who is now in the hall of fame, the opportunity to play baseball and live up to their goals. Hank Aaron is known as the home run king of baseball thanks to Jackie giving him the opportunity. Delino Deshields, St. Louis Cardinals second baseman stated, “Jackie was before Rosa Parks. He was before Martin Luther King, Malcolm X. Jackie did all this stuff. He’s a pioneer, to me, for civil rights in general.
Him breaking the color line in baseball was bigger than any civil rights march, anything, in my opinion that happened after that. That was the transcending thing” (Chass, 2). This piece of evidence brings out the idea that Jackie laid out the table for all civil rights activists. When someone can say that one man could have been bigger than any civil rights march, it means that that one man, being Jackie Robinson in this case, all by himself made more of an impact on society than a large group of people which is an amazing feat to accomplish.
He was a pioneer in what he did and many people were influenced by his courage to go out on the field and succeed. Some may say that the fact that he could go out and perform the way he did lead to black people believing more in themselves that if they have faith and think they can make a difference, they will. Obviously, not every black person felt that way but Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and many others believed this and they ended up having a huge impact on society.
The question of whether or not all of this would have happened if Jackie Robinson hadn’t laid out the table is one that can’t be answered but it deffinately would make for a good debate. Jackie Robinson had to show strength in terms of ignoring the racist remarks and death threats in order for this experiment to work. “Jackie faced more adversity in the big leagues than most people will ever face in their entire lives. It was rather remarkable how he handles all that adversity, his self-discipline.
He held it all in, even with all of the terrible things he saw and heard” Williams, 1). Very few people will ever go through the same amount of pressure and hate that Jackie had to go through. Also, very few people have not heard half the bad things Jackie heard and saw in their lives. Jackie went through a lot and literally risked his life to make American a better place and equalize opportunity for African Americans. It would not be surprising if the things that he went through scarred him.
However, it was all worth it at the end but it very well could have taken a bad turn if Jackie did not do everything that he needed to do which was be the best and ignore everything that came to him, from the media, to the fans, to the opponents. Jackie made a huge sacrifice to do what he did. “Robinson lived in a time when racial segregation and prejudices were common place in American society. The courage he showed by accepting the Brooklyn Dodgers offers to play baseball in the major leagues epitomizes his personality” (www. trincoll. edu, 3).
Jackie knew what was coming to him as soon as Branch Rickey offered him a contract to play with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He had to have a lot of courage to know that he was getting himself into a massive amount of pressure not only because everybody in America was going to have their eye on him, but also because of the huge responsibilities that came with it. Also, consider the fact that America was more racist and racial segregation took place. Jackie knew that this could either make or break black America all depending on his performances and reactions as well as poise.
“Robinson was forced to practice on a field in the black part of Daytona beach, away from the main stadium. Threats were an everyday part of his existence. ‘This wasn’t Ebbets field’ Lamb said. ‘He went into the deep south, where black people who challenged desegregation were lynched” (Sportsillustrated. cnn. com, 2). Back in this time period, times were so bad and harsh towards black people that Jackie could not even practice with his teammates. He dealt with racial criticism and death threats etc every day through out his baseball career, especially in the beginning.
The whole country was racist at during this time but it is known that the south was the worst of the worst. As the piece of evidence above says, black people who challenged segregation were lynched. It is impossible for one to ignore something like this when they are the target. The best thing one can do is keep all the anger and depression to yourself and do your best on the field. Jackie did just that. Jackie Robinson’s ability to have the courage to speak aggressively against discrimination increased his credibility. “My letter to the governor was a harshly honest letter.
I said I felt no self-respecting black man could respect an administration that had no blacks in significant jobs. Governor Rockefeller met my honesty head on. He telephoned me personally and told me how much he appreciated my truthfulness. He admitted that things were not as they should be for blacks in state governments and that he wanted to take steps to correct this; he suggested we meet and talk things over within the next few days. In the course of that telephone call, I bluntly said, “If you don’t want to hear the down to earth truth about how you are thought of in the black community, let’s just forget about it.
He assured me that he wanted and needed unbiased advice. The meeting took place in a private room at the top of Radio City Music Hall. He did not bring any apologists or token black leaders into the meeting to justify himself. He brought an open mind and someone to take notes” (Robinson, 3). Jackie’s spectacular professional ball playing career made it easier to have the opportunity to reach out to major politicians like Governor Rockefeller. After his career, Jackie had the ability to have his voice heard so he could have important individuals hear a black persons perspective.
It was important for Jackie to be able to voice his opinion for the black community because he was one of the very few, if not the only black man during this time period that had the power to have politicians and society overall listen to what he had to say. Not only did he have politicians listen to him, but he let them know in advance that he was going to be as straight forward and brutally honest as he had to be, according to the source above, the result of the meeting that took place came with drastic changes.
Months after the meeting, Governor Rockefeller appointed the first black people to work in high positions, having them influencing his everyday decisions even though many people were unhappy with this decision. Jackie took matters into his own hands and eventually became responsible for the hiring of many black men to work such a highly paid job as politicians. If Jackie had not played professional baseball and succeeded the way he did, chances are the governor would not have given Jackie the time of day to listen to his opinion.
However, due to the fact that Jackie was so highly respected for his courage and performance under pressure, the governor not only listened to what he had to say, but he took Jackie’s words and used them to change a large aspect of his job in order to benefit African Americans even though many people were not happy with this decision. Jackie stated, “The white public should start toward real understanding by appreciating that every single Negro who is worth his salt is going to resent any kind of slurs and discrimination because of his race.
The more a Negro hates communism because it opposes democracy, the more he is going to hate any other influence that kills of democracy in this country and that goes for racial discrimination” (Cook, 4). The attitude that Jackie had in this piece of evidence was not new to him, however it was new to everybody else and came as a surprise to them. The public was not use to seeing this side of Jackie considering Branch Rickey, the man who signed Jackie to the Brooklyn Dodgers told Jackie that he could not show signs of anger or frustration no matter what he hears from the public.
After two years of playing with the Dodgers the way he did, Branch Rickey told Jackie that he ‘earned the right to be himself. ’ Jackie took advantage of that opportunity by speaking aggressively for the first time about what was on his mind. This was symbolic for Jackie because it was the first of many times that he would speak his mind in such a way. In 1956, when his baseball career ended, his political career began. Robinson embraced his knowledge of politics and speaking abilities in order to help the cause of deterring racial issues as much as he possibly could.
It is evident that he did a good job at that as well. Jackie poured all of his anger and frustration at the racism he encountered into his ball playing, increasing his abilities on the field, and further silencing his critics. His ability to do this increased his credibility as a symbol for racial equality, which made it easier for him to be politically involved after his baseball career ended. “The average human being loses some efficiency when he’s angry. We all have problems doing our job when we are angry.
Jackie’s uniqueness lay in the fact that he performed even better when angry” (Williams, 98). Normally, when people get mad, it is harder for them to achieve what they need to because they are more focused on their anger and breaking something or getting revenge etc as opposed to actually getting their job done. Jackie was the opposite of this, when he got mad over the racial slurs and ignorance of America in this time period, he took it in stride and used what got him angry as motivation to play even better.
This made white people look at the big picture and as for dehumanizing black people, it was not completely put to a stop but was somewhat deterred. “Somehow, Jackie had the strength to suppress his instincts, to sacrifice his pride for his people. It was an act of selflessness that brought the races closer together than ever before and shaped the dreams of an entire generation” (www. time. com, 3). Deep down, Jackie wanted to retaliate against the white supremacists, but he swallowed his pride and instead of physically and verbally retaliating, he retaliated with his talent in baseball.
He swallowed his pride for the sake of other people as well as future generations. He was one of the very few people in this world that realized at the time, despite how much tension there was, that it would all be worth it at the end and it was. The fact that he had the power to do that is the reason for us as a nation being where we are today. This act of selflessness surprised everyone who criticized him and silenced them. This is why it became easier as time went on for Jackie to be able to play because the pressure started lowering down as the years passed by.
This is what happened when people started to realize the man that Jackie was. Jackie Robinson’s determination and debating skills helped impact the Civil Rights Movement in terms of bringing America one-step closer to equality. Jackie Robinson stated, “I believe blacks ought to become producers, manufacturers, developers, and creators of businesses, providers of jobs. For too long we had been spending much too much money on liquor while we owned few liquor stores and were not even manufacturing it. If you found a black man making shoes or candy or ice cream it was a rarity. We talked
about not having capital, but we needed to learn to take a chance, to be daring, to pool capital, to organize our buy power so that the millions we spent did not leave our communities to be stacked up in the downtown banks. In addition to the economic security we could build green with power, we could use economic means to reinforce black power. How much more effective our demands for a piece of the action would be if we were negotiating from the strength of our own reliance rather than stating our case in the role of beggar or someone out for charity” (I NEVER HAD IT MADE, 4).
Jackie obviously had a lot of ambition and was willing to do whatever it took to give blacks more power and motivate more blacks to put as much effort as Jackie himself was putting in. hearing these words come out of Jackie’s mouth could make one think of Martin Luther King, possibly one of the best known Civil Rights Activists to ever live. They both sound very similar in terms of leadership and how they carried themselves with pride. Not willing to say no, not willing to negotiate, but demanding what they believed was right. That is what makes a true leader and a little bit of Martin Luther King could be seen in Jackie Robinson.
Maybe it is true after all that Jackie was one of Martin Luther King’s influences. Everybody in our world has to have a role model or someone to just influence us and it would make a lot of sense if that were the case between Jackie Robinson and Martin Luther King. They both had great determination and that is part of how they helped make a difference in American society. “I was booked on a television conservatism panel which included Bill Buckley, Shelley Winters, and myself. When my friends and family learned I had consented to participate, they were aghast. ‘Send a telegram and say you can’t make it.
Bill Buckley will destroy you. He really knows how to make people look foolish. ’ I was glad to receive these warnings. I didn’t have the slightest intention of backing out, although I already had a healthy respect for Buckley’s craft as a debater. These apprehensions of my friends made me create an advance strategy which I otherwise might have not employed. I lifted it strictly out of my sports background. When you know that you are going to face a tough, tricky opponent, you don’t let him get the first lick. Jump him before he can do anything and stay on him, keeping him on the defensive.
Never let up and you rattle him effectively. When the show opened up-before Buckley could get into his devastating act of using snide remarks, big words, and the superior manner-I lit right into whim with the charge that many influential Goldwater members were racist. Shelley winters piled in behind me, and Buckley scarcely got a chance to collect his considerable wit. A man who prides himself on coming out of verbal battle cool, smiling, and victorious, he lost his calm, became snappish and irritated, and when the show was over and everyone else was shaking hands, got up and strode angrily out of the studio.
It was a small victory, but an important one for me. There didn’t seem to be much to win in those days on the political scene but I have always believed in fighting, even if only to keep the negative forces back” (I NEVER HAD IT MADE, 8). What we see in a lot of black athletes today as well as in the past is their ability to not fold under pressure and to never give up. We saw an example of that in the last quote when Jackie pointed out that he had no intentions of backing out of the show despite Bill Buckner who is apparently known for tearing people apart on national television.
Instead of backing out, Jackie took the mans reputation in stride and used it against him. It might not be a coincidence that this is the strategy that many professional athletes use to succeed in what they do, which is to figure out everything you can about your opponent and get to know anything you can about his weaknesses before he does the same to you. It is evident that Robinson used his knowledge from baseball to benefit himself in this particular situation.
It is still a question whether athletes or people in general use this type of strategy on their own or is it because everybody people followed someone in terms of how to go about these situations. Jackie after all is considered a pioneer and this may be another aspect of how he was a pioneer. Regardless of the case, this is another example of how courageous he was. Jackie Robinson’s fame as a ballplayer and his excellence not only on but off the field inspired blacks and disproved racist theory. “I would argue he is one of the twenty most important Americans of the last century.
Put simply, to be an American citizen, to understand the history of this century and our society’s continuing growth you have to know Jackie Robinson” (Williams, IntroXV). Jackie by far had one of the biggest impacts an individual ever had in the history of America. To be a good American citizen, is to know the history of your nation and Jackie played a large role in the history of our nation. What gave him the ability to have a large impact on our country was the fact that he won awards such as; rookie of the year, MVP, won a batting title and led the league in stolen bases multiple seasons.
Not to mention the ability to block out the critics and hateful fans routing for him to fail. After people saw this, it made it easier for them to think that if Jackie, being a black man in America can accomplish these feats, maybe all of them can. Robinson opened the door to professional to black Americans. He was a pioneer in his own right, who forever changed the opinions of countless American baseball fans” (www. trincoll. edu, 3). Jackie gave other people who thought they would never have a chance, the opportunity to become what they wanted to be in life.
In his own way, Robinson made a change in America without even needing to speak. He let the game speak not only for himself, but every black person living in America in this time period. There was racist theory that black people were stupid and could not amount to anything. Considering this, there was no chance that black people could compete with whites and that is why when Jackie Robinson took the field, half of America was angry that he was getting the opportunity to compete but the other half was curious to see how we would perform.
After seeing what Jackie could do on the field, It silenced the ignorance of America, not completely but it definitely made our country somewhat more peaceful. None of this would have been accomplished if Jackie did not have the talent and poise that he came through with. “Breaking the color barrier did say, ‘Maybe it’s not so bad that you can have an African-American athlete participate in the so-called American sport. Brown said, I think people started to re-it after they saw Robinson” (mlb. mlb. com, 2).
Before Jackie ever took the field, most of America thought that an African American would never have the opportunity and even if given the opportunity, never be able to compete in the major league level with the white players. After they saw Jackie, they realized it wasn’t so bad and it couldn’t hurt having black people in the majors as long as they could compete. If Jackie did not have the talent, people would look and say that black people really can not compete and be angry that Jackie even had the chance.
It would probably prevent another African American to have the opportunity not only to play baseball but a lot of other things for a long time. Jackie was aware of this and despite the intense pressure it brought, he still came through as one of the best and thrived under very difficult circumstances. Some may argue that Jackie Robinson was an anomaly and did not defy all blacks; he was just an acception because people saw that he could play baseball and do more than just compete with white people. Also, Jackie was a good speaker and people saw this.
For those reasons, people eventually accepted Jackie Robinson but not the rest of the black society because they were still looked at as unintelligent, useless and non human. However, the weakness in this argument is that Jackie was not exception and that he truly did contribute to African Americans being looked at as equal. When people saw Jackie perform, and then after his amazing career watch him become politically active and see how smart the man was (which was a surprise to them) they realized that not only him, but African Americans everywhere had the same potential that everybody else in the world we live in has.
Not only did they see that, but they witnessed Jackie Robinson hearing the most obscene remarks from fans and opponents on the field, any normal human beings first reaction would most likely be to let their temper get the best of them and talk back, maybe even start a fight. Jackie Robinson simply ignored them and under the intense amount of pressure, not only did he keep his cool but also he played right through it better than anybody expected him to.
Jackie Robinson made a huge difference in American society. Nobody can completely change a society’s opinion all on his own but he helped. He pushed our country a step forward and was the first of many individuals to contribute to the civil rights movement. Jackie’s name was known before Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. , Rosa Parks and many others. Robinson played a large role in giving black people the opportunity to become what they wanted to be in life and now today, we have a black president.
However, we still do see signs of racism in our world today; our president receiving death threats, the way the media portrays black people and the fact that we do not have many big time CEOs in our country being black. Even though color is not invisible in our society, a lot has changed since the 1900s and we do not see nearly as much racism today as we use to see back then. Black people were constantly dehumanized but thanks to people like Jackie Robinson and many other civil rights activists, our world is slowly but surely becoming a place of equality.