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Jackie Robinson: Breaking the Racial Barriers

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JACKIE ROBINSON: Breaking the Racial Barriers

On July 23, 1962, in the charming village of Cooperstown, New York, four new members were inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame. As they gathered around the wooden platform, the fans reminisced about America's national pastime. Edd Roush and Bill McKechnie, sixty-eight and seventy-four years old respectively, were tow of the inductees that day (Robinson 142). They were old-timers chosen by the veterans' committee. Bob Feller and Jackie Robinson, both forty-two, were youngsters by comparison. According to the rules of the Hall of Fame, a player must be retired for five years before he can be considered for induction. Both Feller and Robinson were elected in the first year they were eligible (141).

As Robinson received his plaque to take his place among the greats in the Hall of Fame, he said, "I've been riding on cloud number nine since the election, and I don't think I'll ever come down. Today everything is complete" (Robinson 142). After the induction ceremony, an exhibition game between the Milwaukee Braves and the New York Yankees was to take place at Doubleday Field, where the sport had its beginnings. A sudden thunderstorm delayed the game, and after an hours wait it was cancelled. At this same time, picketers in the streets of Harlem were carrying signs saying, "Jackie, we love you as a ballplayer, but not as a spokesman for the Negro race" (143).

Just two days earlier at a banquet in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, many people had paid $25 a plate to show their admiration for Jackie as both a ballplayer and a representative of the Negro race as well. Some of the most distinguished figures in the nation were present this day and their praise was loud and long (Mann 187). Jackie had accepted without hesitation a challenge to break a prevailing color barrier in the national sport of America with complete knowledge of how much depended on him. Few men had ever faced such competitive odds when becoming a player in organized baseball. Despite criticism and opposition, Jack Roosevelt Robinson had truly come a long way from his poor beginnings as the grandson of slaves in Cairo, Georgia, to breaking the racial barriers in major league baseball by becoming its first black athlete and achieving hall of fame status.

Jackie Robinson's childhood was a struggle in family and financial matters. He was born on January 31, 1919, on a peonage that was one step away from the slavery into which his grandparents had been born (Mann 53). Only six months after Jackie was born his father deserted the family. This led to several hardships. The family lived on a sharecropper's farm until the plantation owner used the father's leave as an excuse to keep the whole crop the family had raised and to evict the widow and her children (54). Jackie's mother gathered her young ones about her with bitter feelings and found work as a domestic servant.

About a year later, Robinson's uncle came to visit. He had served in the first World War. Afterward he had settled in California. When he returned to visit his family in Georgia, they scarcely recognized him, because he was dressed so finely (Mann 57). Once he learned of their troubles, he was immediately convinced that his sister and her children would do better in California. Within a few days, she boarded a train with her five little ones.

They arrived in Pasadena toward the end of May, 1920, and moved into tight quarters with her sister and brother-in-law, brother, a nephew and her husband's cousin (Robinson 79). Though they lacked hot water and a kitchen sink, Pasadena seemed glorious with it's blue hills on the horizon and it's wonderful air. Mrs. Robinson accepted a job doing housework while the Welfare Department provided clothing for the children (80).

Mrs. Robinson soon found employment at which she could earn enough money to consider a more ample living space. They found a house on Pepper Street, however, the neighborhood did not welcome these Georgia Negroes (Robinson 82). Criticism from neighbors became a part of Jackie's life as a toddler. By the time he was eight years old, he was doing what came naturally: standing his ground and answering back when the occasion demanded.

As the Robinson boys became old enough to work, they sought ways to help solve the family's financial problems. Frank and Mack found a number of strange jobs, such as shining shoes and selling hot dogs (Bontemps 60). Jackie's first regular employment was carrying the Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Examiner on a regular Sunday morning delivery route. Later, he worked on Saturdays helping his uncle tend lawns and shrubbery( 61).

By that time, Jackie Robinson was ready for high school, and at Muir Tech it did not take him long to find expression in athletics for the rare coordination and the tightly controlled competitive instinct with which he had been born. Some found him too aggressive and cocky, yet his coaches were delighted with his abilities. With Jackie on the teams, Muir Tech became a high school terror in Southern California football, basketball, baseball and track. Every team they faced came into the game under orders to "stop Robinson" (Young 123).

Strange as it may seem in retrospect, the major colleges failed to get steamed up over Jackie Robinson's prospects at this point. When he received no offer of a full scholarship, he decided to enter Pasadena Junior College (Young 123). Only his oldest brother, Frank, was upset by this, however. Frank had become almost like a father to his youngest brother. He was convinced that nothing but rank injustice was behind this apparent snub. "But we'll show 'em," he vowed. "You just wait till next fall" (123).

In the practice sessions that fall, however, Jackie was too anxious to completely fulfill Frank's prediction. Trying to play on a slippery field, he caught his foot in a hole, and at that instant two tacklers hit him. Later, the trainer found that he had broken his ankle, so he was sitting on the bench when the season began (Robinson 9). He played quarterback during the last six games that year, however, and the record for these contests was five wins for Pasadena and one scoreless tie. The college scouts who had passed him up in high school were now convinced (10).

In basketball, baseball, and track, he made their miscalculation even more emphatic. He got headlines as he starred in each, and in a track meet at Pomona College he set a new world record for the broad jump by a junior college athlete (Robinson 10). After Pasadena Junior College had won the baseball championship that year, Jackie was named the most valuable junior



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