8/19/2017
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Jackie Robinson Day

Jackie Robinson Day is celebrated at major league baseball stadiums around the country on April 15th of each year commemorating the day he played his first game as a major league player.

On April 15, 1947, opening day of major league baseball season, Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play professional baseball in what was then an all white league. Considered one of the defining moments in race relations in the United States, that date has become an annual tradition that commemorates the life of Jackie Robinson and his career as a professional baseball player.

Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born on January 31, 1919 in Cairo, Georgia. When he was one year old, his mother, Mallie, moved the family to Pasadena, California, where she raised Jack and his four older siblings as a single mother.

Jack, who was called Jackie by family and friends, graduated from John Muir High School (now Muir Tech) where he played and lettered in baseball, football, basketball, track, and was a member of the tennis team.

After graduating from John Muir, Robinson attended Pasadena Junior College where he continued to excel in sports playing shortstop on the baseball team and breaking the school broad-jump records that were held by his older brother, Mack.

Robinson transferred to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1939 and was a standout atheletes in basketball, football and track. He was named to the All-American football team and was considered one of the best atheletes in the country while becoming UCLA's first athlete to win varsity letters in four sports that included baseball, track, football, and basketball.

Shortly before graduating, Robinson left UCLA to work as an assistant athletic director with the National Youth Administration (NYA), a government sponsored agency that provided education and work for people between the ages of 16 and 25.

After the NYA was discontinued, Robinson went to Hawaii and played simi-professional football with the Honolulu Bears. In 1941, he returned to Southern California to play for the Los Angeles Bulldogs.

With World War II raging around the world, Robinson joined the United States Army in 1942 and served until 1945. He was assigned to a segregated cavalry unit at Fort Riley, Kansas. While at Fort Riley, he applied for admission into Officer Candidate School (OCS). Due to racial discrimination, few African Americans were admitted but after protests by heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis and others, he was eventually allowed to enroll and became commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1943.

After refusing to move to the back of a bus, Robinson was arrested and court martialed on several trumped up offenses. He was tried and all charges were dropped but the court martial prevented him from serving overseas with his company and would come back to haunt him during his major league career.

After leaving the army, Robinson began his professional baseball career in the Negro League playing shortstop for the Kansas City Monarchs. At that time, racial segregation prevented African Americans, no matter how talented they were, from playing professionally alongside white players, not only in baseball, but in all professional sports.

Things start changing for African American athletes in the late 1940s. Certain owners from Major League Baseball (MLB) began scouting players from the Negro League to play in the MLB. In 1945, Branch Rickey, president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, signed Jackie Robinson to play for the Dodgers farm club, the Montreal Royals to play the 1946 season.

In 1947, Robinson was called up to play for the Dodgers in a move that broke the color barrier in major league baseball and other professional sports. He played his first MLB game at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn before a crowd of over 26,000 fans where he became the first African American to play in the MLB since the 1880's.

Robinson, being the first African American to play in the MLB had to overcome many obstacles. There was blatant racial animosity projected towards African Americans around the country and much of it was aimed at him. Robinson had to promise that he would not react angrily to racial insults and abuse and focus wholly on playing baseball.

From the beginning of Robinson's MLB career, he had to endure racial abuse from all segments of the game, from fans to managers, coaches, and referees, as well as his own teammates. Some of his teammates refused to talk to him, share the same locker room, use the same restrooms and clubhouse showers, and some even refused to play with him.

The abuse was even worse on the road. He wasn't allowed to stay in the same hotel with his teammates, eat at the same restaurants, and in some locations, games were actually cancelled to keep him from playing.

Through all the abuse, Robinson refused to give in to ignorance and hatred. He met all challenges with grace and dignity and played the game as a true professional, not letting those who wanted to create mischief get in his way. By doing this, he showed the world that prejudice and racial animosity has no place in sports or in society as a whole.

In 1962, Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He is honored for his many accomplishments on the field as well as his humility and personal sacrifice off the field. His jersey number, 42, is proudly displayed anywhere the name Jackie Robinson appears.

Jackie Robinson Day was initiated on April 15, 2004 and is celebrated each year as a tribute to Jackie Robinson for breaking the color barrier and proving that African Americans and other people of color should be treated the same as their white counterparts. On this day, MLB players, coaches, managers, and many fans around the league proudly wear number 42 on their jerseys in reverence to Jackie Robinson and what he did to promote racial harmony.

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