On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first Black person to play pro baseball in the modern era. Today pro sports everywhere celebrates his contributions on and off the field.
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Jackie Robinson (1919-1972), broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball 75 years, becoming the first Black pro baseball player in the 20th century. He first appeared on the field playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers April 15, 1947.
Although he is best known for his achievements in baseball, Robinson stood up for Black rights before his entry into the majors. In 1944, while serving in the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant, he faced a court martial for refusing to sit on the back of a military bus. The charges were later dropped and he eventually received an honorable discharge.
When Robinson left the army, he played professional football in Hawaii and began his baseball career with the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues, playing shortstop. It was there that he caught the attention of Branch Rickey, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers. He played only one season (1945) for the Monarchs before moving to the Montreal Royals, a Triple-A league team affiliated with the Dodgers.
While he was with the Dodgers, his career exploded. He led the National League in bases stolen his first year in the majors and was chosen Rookie of the Year. In 1949 he was voted the league’s Most Valuable Player and was the top batter with a .342 average. He eventually led the Dordgers to six league championships and a World Series win in 1955. He retired in 1956 with a lifetime batting average of .311.
Robinson was also a family man. In 1946, he married Rachael Islum, a UCLA nursing student that he met while playing baseball there. They had three children, Jackie Jr., Sharon and David. The family was engaged in the Civil Rights movement and were allied with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., often appearing with him publicly and was a spokesperson for the NAACP.
Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, becoming the first Black person to be a member. He also was a sportscaster and an executive with the Chock Full O’Nuts coffee company. He was also editor of Our Sports, a Black-targeted sports magazine started in 1953. He died in 1972 and his number, 42, was retired from Major League Baseball in 1997. The league began to celebrate Jackie Robinson Day in 2004 and players around it wear his number that day.