When Jack Roosevelt "Jackie" Robinson was born in 1919 in Cairo, Ga., nobody could have predicted that he would grow up to represent the height of athletic achievement—and also knock down racial barriers in many aspects of society, from sports to politics to business.
One of five children raised in relative poverty by a single mother, Robinson was destined to transcend his circumstances. Through the strength of his character, he recorded many “firsts” that had tremendous impact on the United States during the civil rights era.
Robinson attended UCLA, where he became the first person to letter in four sports during the same year. He served in the U.S. Army before beginning his professional baseball career, which spanned from 1947 to 1957. In baseball, despite unmitigated racial discrimination from management, teammates and fans, Robinson possessed the courage to defy retaliation and end 80 years of baseball segregation. Robinson crossed the color line and made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 as the first African-American player in Major League Baseball.
He was an outstanding base runner, stealing home 19 times in his career—more than any ball player since World War I. As a disciplined hitter, a versatile fielder and an outstanding defensive player, Robinson won Rookie of the Year in 1947 and Most Valuable Player in 1949 for the National League. He was the first African-American inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and became a member of the All-Century Team. He received a championship ring when he led the Dodgers to a 1955 World Series victory over the New York Yankees. Major League Baseball retired Robinson's number 42—never to be worn by another ball player—in recognition of his accomplishments on and off the field.
Robinson's historic achievements in baseball were but one aspect of his life and legacy. He was a champion of civil and human rights and a staunch supporter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai Brith. A significant fundraiser for the NAACP, he was a major figure in national politics, influencing leaders such as Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, and Nelson Rockefeller. He became the first black writer to have a nationally syndicated column for a white-owned publication. In his later career, he founded the Jackie Robinson Construction Corporation to improve living conditions of black Americans in metropolitan areas. In the 1960s, he helped establish the Freedom National Bank, an African-American-owned financial institution based in Harlem, New York. And he was the first black vice president of a major American corporation, working for 10 years for Chock Full O' Nuts.
After his death in 1972, Robinson became one of only two baseball players to be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, and President Ronald Reagan also awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Looking back, we may always envision Jackie Robinson in his uniform on the baseball field. But in addition to being a phenomenal athlete, Robinson was a pioneer, a hero, and a representative of many values that continue to inspire us today. He stands as a true example of innovation and foresight, based in the strength of character to achieve any goal you can imagine.
Character. Pass It On!
This billboard about Character features Jackie Robinson (1919-1972); first black Major League Baseball player.