Jackie Robinson was more than a baseball pioneer. It is debatable that Robinson may have been one of the most important Americans to live last century. If such a list is ever compiled, Robinson should be on it.
A close look at Robinson’s life would reveal many instances of greatness that would seem surreal it were a work of fiction. During his life he was many things: A four sport All-American at UCLA, a Buffalo Soldier, a tank commander, a civil-rights pioneer, a college athletic director, and a decent middle infielder.
Robinson, along with future black professional football pioneers Kenny Washington and Woody Strode (Both men would briefly integrate pro football.) would make up the first all black offensive back field at a major predominately white university.
After college Robinson would be drafted into the United States Army and would become a member of the 9th Calvary Regiment (Buffalo Soldiers) at Ft. Riley, Kansas. Robinson along with several other members of the 9th Calvary would apply to the Army’s Officers Candidate School only to have their applications delayed. At this point Robinson and his fellow applicants would cross paths with Joe Louis, boxing’s heavyweight champion, who was also stationed at Ft. Riley. Joe Louis would intervene on behalf of the soldiers and they were accepted into OCS. Upon receiving his commission as a 2nd lieutenant, Robinson would be stationed at Ft. Hood, Texas and join the 761st Tank Battalion. Unbeknownst to Robinson, Ft Hood would be the sight of his first foray into the American Civil Rights movement when he would refuse to move to the back of a segregated bus on the basis of him being a commissioned army officer. With the commander of the 761st, Paul L. Bates refused to court-martial Robinson, the fort’s commander would transfer Robinson to another battalion to insure Robinson’s prosecution by another commander. Although Robinson would be acquitted by an all while panel, he would miss the deployment of his former unit that would go on to make history themselves.
After holding several jobs Robinson would begin a baseball career in 1946 when Branch Rickey signed him to a professional contract. This would lead him to the day that today marks. He would take the field as a first basemen for the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first black professional Major League Baseball player since the 1880’s. Bigger than baseball, April 15th would be one of several building blocks to social equality in this country. President Harry S. Truman would sign Executive Order 9819 the next year, ordering the integration of the military forces of the United States. Public school systems, universities, and various institutions long mired in segregation all would begin to integrate within the next two decades. Although he wasn’t the sole reason, Jackie Robinson’s decision to swing a back should be celebrated by more than just Major League Baseball, which today sadly is only 9 – 10 % black.