From gang member to world-famous baseball player, Jackie Robinson helped break down barriers for African American athletes, proving that they can not only compete, but excel, in a variety of sports.
- Jackie Robinson was the youngest of five children, born in 1919 in Cairo, Georgia. His father left the family a year later. His mother took the children and moved to Pasadena, California where she lived with other members of her family.
- Jackie’s mom worked a lot of different jobs to support the family. They got by, but never had any extra. Growing up in Pasadena, where most white people had money, was hard. Jackie joined a gang for a little while, but dropped out with a friend’s encouragement.
- Jackie attended John Muir High School. His older brothers told him to get involved in sports instead of gangs. Jackie played football, basketball, baseball, and tennis. He joined the track team too.
- He went to Pasadena Junior College and kept on playing sports — football, basketball, baseball, and track. He won several awards and broke several records. While in college, he was asked to join the school’s Order of the Mast and Dagger, a special award for outstanding scholarly effort and service to the school.
- In 1939, he transferred to UCLA and became the first athlete to win school letters in football, basketball, baseball, and track. During college, he was the least proficient in baseball.
- After college, he worked as an athletic director and then a running back, until World War II drew him into military service.
- He was assigned to the 761stBlack Panthers Tank Batallion in Fort Hood, Texas. On the weekends, he visited his friend, the Reverend Karl Downs, who had been his minister in Pasadena and now lived nearby.
- During his military service, he got in trouble for refusing to move to the back of a bus. He was court-marshalled and charged with drunken conduct (even though he didn’t drink).
- After the War, Jackie tried out for a spot in a major league baseball team. At that time, black baseball players weren’t allowed to play on white MLB teams, but Branch Rickey, part owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, liked Jackie enough to hire him anyway.
- Many of the white baseball players didn’t like this. They’d push him and spit on him. The white crowds yelled insults. But he kept on playing.
- Jackie Robinson went on to become one of the best baseball players ever in Major League Baseball. He paved the way for other athletes of color.
- Proficient: capable, skilled
- Court-marshal: to be brought before a military court
Questions and Answers
Question: Did Jackie Robinson have a family and children?
Answer: Jackie met his wife, Rachel, in college. They had three children. Jackie died in 1972, but his wife is still alive (as of 2019). She is a nurse, a public speaker, and the founder of the Jackie Robinson Foundation. She has earned twelve honorary doctorate degrees and numerous other awards for her work on equality, mental health, and education.
Watch a video about Jackie Robinson.