Born on January 31, 1919 in Cairo, Georgia, Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson, the youngest of five siblings, would later in life become the first African-American to play baseball outside the segregated black league. As the living icon he was, he changed the game of baseball forever opening doors for others in a young black community with a love for the sport and battling to survive under the stipulations of the 14th amendment.
In his early years, his father, Jerry Robinson, left his family and they were subject to racial discrimination while living on the plantation of one Jim Sasser, until his mother Mollie moved the family to Pasadena, California to stay with their uncle Burton. Like any young boy who didn’t have a firm male figure in his life to guide him, Jackie soon became a member of a mischievous set of boys known as the Pepper Street Gang.
A concerned Reverend Downs saw the trouble Jackie was heading for, took him under his wing, and saw him through Muir Technical High School and Pasadena Junior College. He enrolled in the University of California in 1939, where he excelled in football, baseball, basketball and track. At UCLA he also met a nursing student Rachel Isum, with whom he got married in February 1947 and had three children; Jackie Jr., Sharon and David. Subsequent to that, Jackie left UCLA without his degree and was hired to play football for the Honolulu Bears.
In the April of 1942, Jackie Robinson was accepted into the U.S. Army during the Second World War, then applied for officer candidate school where he was accepted and graduated as a second lieutenant. The racial discrimination all through this time was very intense and when he got transferred to Fort Hood in Texas, it wasn’t any different.
In 1947, Robinson finally got his break in baseball after much controversy about a black man playing outside the Negro League, he was signed at the Brooklyn Dodgers. Players and coaches alike throughout the white league were enraged at this move and even threatened to strike rather than play alongside Robinson. His first season was a living hell, but they eventually played after being given the opportunity to leave because Dodgers president Branch Rickey, was firm in his choice about letting Robinson play. He proved himself to be a formidable opponent, ending his first season as Rookie of the Year and in 1949, the MVP for the National League. He honed his skills and was known by many players as the most successful, aggressive and intelligent player in his time.
Jackie Robinson spent six of his 10 years in baseball leading the Dodgers to the World Series and retired in January of 1957 after being plagued with injuries, which forced him to seek other employment. He sought to be a coach or manager of a major league team, but discrimination won again which saw him being turned down for the jobs. He became a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) where he expressed his stand on civil rights.
On October 24, 1972 he succumbed to heart and diabetes complications and died. He was the first African-American inducted into the hall of fame in 1962 and his number 42 was eventually retired in all of baseball and April the 15th was officially made Jackie Robinson Day in his honor. The Jackie Robinson Foundation was instituted following his death, which funded scholarships for 141 students annually.