By: William Earl Robinson Jr.
In this current day of increasing awareness to societal justice I think that it’s time to recognize two vital players in the war on racial injustice and segregation. Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson are important historical figures in the fact that they helped to end segregation in major league baseball. It was through their courageous actions and through their beliefs that baseball was integrated to black players, and thanks to Mr. Rickey that baseball was integrated to Hispanic players as well as he integrated baseball by including Roberto Clemente. All of this happened decades before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s famous march and I would argue that without their actions his may not have been so successful as all of this happened 20 years prior to his, “I have a dream.” speech.
Branch Rickey was born in 1881 in Stockdale Ohio. He was an extremely religious man and lived by a very strict code of morals. He had minimal success as a player but his greatest contributions would be as an administrator. He was responsible for the formation of minor league baseball as well as the integration of major league baseball to black and Hispanic players. His professional career would start with the St. Louis Browns and then he would move on to the St. Louis Cardinals and it was while he was with the Cardinals that he came up with the minor league farm system for major league baseball.
The farm system was very important because at that time there were many other professional leagues throughout the country and quite a bit of competition floating around. It helped eliminate that competition making major league baseball more profitable and also lead to a funneling of talent into the Cardinals organization and likely led to them winning 9 championships. Branch left the Cardinals in 1943 and joined the Dodgers thereafter. While with the Dodgers Rickey broke the color barrier by his signing of Jackie Robinson. The success of Jackie Robinson led to other owners signing black players which in turn led to a golden age of baseball. Later Mr. Rickey would join the Pirates organization and in 1955 he would sign Roberto Clemente officially breaking the barrier for Hispanic players as well.
Jackie Robinson was the first player to break the color barrier in Major League baseball in 1945. For reference that was 10 years before Rosa Parks refused to take her seat on the bus. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier while facing threats of violence and while doing so with grace and integrity. He was an amazing role model for people all over this great nation. He was also quite skilled at baseball and was rookie of the year and a 6 time all-star and an MVP. Thanks to his success he opened the door for other black players to play. He also opened the eyes of many white people to black people.
I want you to take a second and think about your average sports fan today. How often do you read things in your sports groups that you think, “Wow that’s racist, or wow that’s sexist!”? For me this happens on a weekly if not daily basis. Think that all of this is happening today after a black man has been elected president and after baseball has been integrated now for 70 years. Now go back in time those 70 years. Think about your grandparents or great grandparents. Think about the societal racism that was present at that time. I mean I don’t think of my grandfather and father as racists but I can surely remember them both saying the N word at some point in time. I can remember my father complaining about the hiring of Tubby Smith at Kentucky because he was a black man. Racism wasn’t just prevalent it was accepted back then and I can’t imagine the bravery that it would take to be Jackie Robinson or even Branch Rickey and to stand up to that level of hatred and vitriol. They were both truly courageous men.
The other point that I would like to make is this: Jackie became a cultural icon, he stared in movies and there was music and other items celebrating him as an athlete. Not just black people came to the stadium to watch him play, white people came too and would cheer him on. Imagine that, white people who may have never interacted with a black person before and had tons of misbegotten beliefs about them as a race are now because of these men going to the stadium to watch and cheer for a black man playing baseball. They are being exposed in some way to black people and black culture and in some way their ignorance was slowly fading. They were starting to view black men as men not so very different from themselves. Which I believe is a very important first step in battling racism. I think that battle begins with education.
I would love for both of these men to be recognized by our country for their contributions. They are amazing heroes of mine and were amazing human beings who excelled far beyond the level of measurement of normal men. MLB already has a Jackie Robinson Day and I would encourage our country to make that day a national holiday. A day in which people all over our country can be off of work to watch baseball and to celebrate Jackie Robinson as the hero that he was. A day to remember his sacrifices and a day to recognize the barriers that we still face to providing equality to everyone. I also would like to encourage the country to change Columbus Day to Branch Rickey Day. I think that too often we forget that there had to be a Branch Rickey for Jackie Robinson to exist and we also belittle the amount of courage it takes for him to do what he did. Mr. Rickey stood up to hatred not from people from a different color but from people of his own color. He didn’t have to do this, he could have been like any other general manager and continued along the same path without integration. He had already created the minor league system and so his name was destined for the hall of fame. However, he felt a moral obligation to end segregation because it was the right thing to do. And so he put his life, and his career on the line to do so. This deserves recognition, and what better way than to remove recognition for a man that celebrated hatred and oppression and to instead use that day to celebrate a man who fought for integration and justice.
We have to celebrate our heroes. We have to take time daily to recognize them and what they have accomplished and also to look at ourselves. What can we do every day to be more like them? How can we change perceptions? How can we fight for justice? Well I think a small thing we can do is learn from the past, and celebrate our heroes. Thank you for reading this and have a wonderful day.