If you went to Google yesterday, you saw that the Google Doodle was legendary baseball player, Jackie Robinson. Jackie Robinson was born on January 31, 1919, and has been a household name in the United States since he broke baseball’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
For all the glowing remembrances that float around each year on Robinson’s birthday and on MLB’S Jackie Robinson Day (each year since 2011 on April 15), the actual difficulties Robinson endured at the hands of white fans and even fellow ballplayers are usually glossed over.
From Dave Zirin’s A People’s History of Sports in the United States:
In their first meeting [Dodgers’ General Manager Branch] Rickey asked his new second baseman, “I know you have the skills. But do you have the guts?” This meant, in effect, did he have the guts to take torrents of abuse and not respond? A decade before the rise of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his movement of nonviolent resistance, Rickey was asking Robinson, a player with a hair-trigger temper, to turn the other cheek.
Robinson faced explicit racism from his managers, teammates, umpires, and white fans, and endured it all with a stoicism that might as well have been a superpower. Some onlookers decided that this meant Robinson didn’t hear or didn’t mind the taunts, racial slurs, and threats showered upon him at every turn, but that was never the case. When Robinson died of a heart attack at the age of 53, his wife Rachel reported that all those years of holding such powerful feelings of stress and rage inside had caused Jackie’s early death.
The definitive book on Jackie Robinson’s life is Jule’s Tygiel’s Baseball’s Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy, and it’s a must read for anyone interested in baseball, race relations, history, or just the story of an incredible human being. It tells of Robinson’s amazing athletic achievements (starting with being a varsity letter winner in FOUR sports at UCLA), and of his passion for ending Jim Crow and segregation (including the tale of being court-marshaled and then acquitted for refusing to give up his seat on an illegally segregated army bus).