Robinson was also a vocal civil rights activist and participated in protests and rallies, including the famed March on Washington in 1963.
Jackie Robinson became the first-ever Black player in Major League Baseball when he made his debut on April 15, 1947. Baseball is now celebrating the 75th anniversary of the iconic player breaking the color barrier. Robinson's debut was a momentous occasion for baseball, opening doors for so many more Black players over the years. While he is predominantly known as a baseball player, he was so much more than that. The iconic "Number 42" was a four-sport star at UCLA, a World War II U.S. Army veteran and Negro League player. He was also the first African American named a vice president at a Fortune 500 company, a political adviser, a banker and a real estate developer, according to Black Enterprise.
Robinson made his debut for the Dodgers at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. To honor the significance of his debut and his legacy, Times Square, the City of New York, in partnership with MLB, declared that 42nd Street and Broadway will temporarily be renamed Jackie Robinson Way. The announcement was made in the presence of Sonya Pankey, the eldest granddaughter of Robinson, and his wife Rachel in a special unveiling ceremony, reported MLB. “Jackie showed the world that equality should be a fundamental right for all and that real change in our society was possible,” said Commissioner Rob Manfred. “Baseball did not truly become the national pastime until Jackie—and those who followed him—integrated our sport. Jackie’s courage was a beacon for much-needed change, both for our game and for our society."
"Throughout his trailblazing Hall of Fame career, Jackie set baseball on a new course, and in doing so, he inspired those who would lead the civil rights movement and those who would support that movement," said Manfred. “On and off the field, baseball seeks to be representative of Americans from all walks of life. We must continually strive to be inclusive and to make diversity not just a business objective, but instead, part of who we are. Our diversity is what makes us great as a nation and as a sport.”
A close-up of the Jackie Robinson Way marker, which will go up at 42nd Street & Broadway this afternoon for all to see pic.twitter.com/XHDMzpI8Pi— Betelhem Ashame (@betelhem_ashame) April 15, 2022
Robinson was a World War II U.S. veteran and returned home in 1944 after the war. He started off playing for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues. Within a year, Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey wanted to sign up Robinson as a player to integrate Major League Baseball. He started out with Montreal Royals, the Dodgers’ top Minor League team. He led the International League in batting with a .349 average and 40 steals. The following year, he was rewarded with a call-up to the Dodgers and made his Major League debut on April 15, 1947, playing first base.
“It was the most eagerly anticipated debut in the annals of the National Pastime,” wrote authors Robert Lipsyte and Pete Levine, according to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. “It represented both the dream and the fear of equal opportunity, and it would change forever the complexion of the game and the attitudes of Americans.” He became an instant star, winning the inaugural Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s Rookie of the Year Award. Within two years, he was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player. He made seven All-Star games in his career and in 1955, made one of the greatest plays ever—stealing home plate in game one of the 1955 World Series. The Dodgers won the series in seven games and won six National League titles during his nine seasons with the team. He ended his career with a .311 batting average, 137 home runs, 734 runs batted in and 197 stolen bases. In 1962, Robinson became the first African American to be elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
He was also an active member of the NAACP. He spoke at many civil rights protests including the March on Washington in 1963. He was also a nationally syndicated columnist for the Post and Amsterdam News, writing on various topics including social issues, sports and family life. He died of a heart attack at his home in Stamford, Connecticut, on October 24, 1972. “Because of Jackie’s efforts to break the color barrier in baseball, he transcended not just sport but really so many aspects of our society, and his courage continues to be felt today,” said NYC deputy mayor for economic and workplace development, Maria Torres-Springer. “He paved the way not only for Black baseball players and other sports professionals but for Black leaders, Black mayors, Black business owners and Black entrepreneurs."