Find out how Jackie Robinson became the first Black player in modern Major League Baseball
Athlete. Activist. Icon. Who was Jackie Robinson? Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born January 31, 1919, in Cairo, Georgia, though he spent most of his childhood in Pasadena, California. After high school, he attended Pasadena Junior College and, later, UCLA. Already an outstanding athlete, Robinson excelled in football, basketball, track—and, of course, baseball. In 1942 Robinson entered the U.S. Army, where, after two years of service, he faced a court-martial for refusing to sit at the back of a military bus about 11 years before Rosa Parks’s similar act of resistance brought the issue of segregated transit to national attention. Robinson returned to athletics, joining the Kansas City Monarchs, a Missouri baseball team that belonged to the Negro American League. On October 23, 1945, Robinson signed with the Montreal Royals of the International League, a minor league baseball team affiliated with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was the first Black player in the International League since the 19th century and—when he was transferred to the Dodgers in 1947 after leading the International League in batting average—he became the first Black player in modern Major League Baseball as well. On the field, Jackie Robinson found immediate success: in 1947 he led the league in stolen bases and was voted Rookie of the Year. In 1949 he was voted the National League MVP. Robinson’s presence in the league often put him in danger. Racist fans threw bottles and yelled slurs from the stands. Some of his teammates protested playing alongside a Black man, and other teams threatened to strike if they had to play against the Dodgers. With segregation still legal in the United States, Robinson was also often barred from staying in the same hotels or eating in the same restaurants as the rest of his team. Jackie Robinson died on October 24, 1972, after a decade in baseball and two more decades as a businessman and civil rights activist working with the NAACP. In 1997, on the fiftieth anniversary of Robinson’s crossing the color line in baseball, his number—42—was retired from Major League Baseball in his honor.