When Jackie Robinson took the field on April 15, 1947 wearing a Brooklyn Dodgers uniform, he became the first African American in over fifty years to play on a major league baseball team. In the process, he broke through baseball’s color line that had relegated African American players to the segregated Negro Leagues.
Jack Roosevelt Robinson, the youngest of five children, was born in Cairo, Georgia on January 31, 1919 to sharecroppers Jerry and Mallie Robinson. When Jack was a year old his father deserted the family, and Mallie Robinson relocated her family to Pasadena, California where Jack grew up. Robinson’s athletic ability was apparent from an early age. In high school he participated in five sports: basketball, football, baseball, tennis and track. He continued to play multiple sports at Pasadena Junior College, where he graduated in 1939, and then at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
While at UCLA, Robinson became the first athlete to earn varsity letters in four sports. Despite his athletic accomplishments, Robinson believed that his chances of playing on any major league sports team after graduation were slim, given the racism of the era, and in 1941 he left college just shy of graduation to take a job as an assistant athletic director with the National Youth Administration in Atascadero, California. The position, however, was short-lived as government funding for the job ended the following year.
In 1942, Robinson was drafted into a segregated Army unit where he served two years. He was admitted into Officer Candidate School and became a second lieutenant in 1943, although his service was marred when he was court-martialed for refusing a civilian bus driver’s order to move to the “back of the bus” during a trip back to the base. After a brief trial, he received an honorable discharge in 1944. The incident was played out in a 1990 movie, The Court-Martial of Jackie Robinson.
Robinson then joined the Kansas City Monarchs, a Negro League team. In August of 1944 Robinson was