Brooklyn Dodger fans who saw Jackie Robinson take the field in 1947 witnessed more than just a great ballplayer. They experienced history in the making. On that day, Robinson broke the color line of professional baseball. He was the first African-American to play on a major league team. Robinson was the perfect man for the job. He was a multi-talented athlete in a variety of sports, but most important, Robinson had great courage, self-control, fierce determination, and believed in social action.
Being first wasn't easy. Baseball fans booed and yelled ugly names. Players threw wild pitches and dug their spikes into him as he slid for home. Racists sent death threats. A strong person, Robinson prevailed. Through his quiet control, bravery, and commitment, Robinson gained the respect of fans and players alike. He became a symbol for black opportunity. At the end of that first season, he won the Rookie of the Year Award. Forty years later, the award was renamed in his honor.
Robinson began to speak out. He protested the injustices he facedunfair umpires' calls, hotels that refused to let him stay with his teammates, and teams that would not hire black players.
After retiring from an outstanding career, Robinson become an advocate for change in the larger political world. As a private citizen, Robinson raised money for good causes such as helping young African-Americans go to college. He spoke out on inner city issues and received many awards for his public service work. Until his early death in 1972, he never stopped crusading on behalf of full civil rights for all people. He believed that the United States was too good a nation to shirk the goals of fair and equal treatment for all the people.
Robinson believed that since democracy is not a sure thing, one must fight constantly to preserve it. Today, what most people know or remember about Jackie Robinson is that he was a superb baseball player and the first African-American to play major league baseball. But behind his feats on the field, Jack Roosevelt Robinson was a public-spirited citizen who used his gifts and fame to help his country combat racial intolerance and bigotry in everyday life.