HISTORY CHALLENGE
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JACKIE ROBINSON

Athlete (1919-1972)

Jackie Robinson is a legendary figure and his name is now synonymous with the desegregation and redefinition of professional sports.  Yet, our collective knowledge of the historical process that created the American icon, has been reduced to an occasional "color commentary," Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey are forever linked in American history.  Rickey understood the psyche of white America.  While Rickey's motives are still unclear, history has proven that his "great experiment" to integrate baseball, ultimately had less to do with baseball and more to do with challenging deep seated attitudes about race. 

The process had to be systematic, and Jackie Robinson not only had to have all the required physical and emotional assets, he had to be willing to make the necessary sacrifices.  Sam Lacy, The AFRO-American's sports editor from 1944 through the present, confirms that while Jackie Robinson was not the most talented black player in the Negro Leagues, he was the best choice for integrating the Major Leagues.  Like Rickey, Mr. Lacy believed that Jackie's early experiences playing and working with whites at UCLA and in the Army gave him an understanding many other black players did not have, as most had only lived and played in segregated arenas. 

Those early experiences showed Jackie that in America, race was the issue that defined the opportunities available to Blacks.  From his earliest experiences with his family in Pasadena, California, he quickly learned that he had to actively respond to racist ignorance.  However,  from his first game with the Montreal Royals in April 1946, until the 1949 season, Jackie was forced to passively respond to racist taunts and threats.  In face, the required silence was his most difficult sacrifice, as it went against how he had chosen to live his life.  When he was free to speak out, it became clear that he had his own athletic and political agenda to pursue.  Throughout the whole experience, especially in his final years in baseball he used his athletic stature and popularity to turn society's focus towards humanity and equality for Blacks and Whites. 

Today, with the dominance of Black players in professional sports, it seems unfathomable that just under 50 years ago not only were Black athletes absent in all mainstream sporting arenas, it was simply not an option and even illegal in some states.  Robinson is heroic, in part, because of the excellence of his athletic achievement; and equally important, for his political commitment to racial equality.  He reaffirms for Black in America that ours is a history of struggle, survival and accomplishment.  

Revised: July 18, 2013.