Jackie Robinson: a snapshot biography

Jackie Robinson Biography


Jackie Robinson could hit. He could run. He could field. And he was a winner. But maybe most important of all, he had courage. He had the courage to be the first Black Major League Baseball player, to deal with the taunts and the insults and threats. And he had the courage not to fight back but rather to excel and help the Dodgers become champions. In doing so, he changed the world.

Color photograph of Jackie Robinson in 1949, wearing a white Brooklyn Dodgers uniform with the team logo on his chest and a blue cap with a white 'B'. He is holding a wooden baseball bat over his shoulder with a focused expression on his face, against a backdrop of a clear sky and baseball field."
Jackie Robinson, 1949

Jackie Robinson Childhood

Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born in the small town of Cairo, Georgia, on January 31, 1919. He was the youngest of five children, born into a family of sharecroppers. But after his father left in 1920, Jackie’s mother moved the family to Pasadena, California, in search of better opportunities.

While opportunities in California may have been better for the family, Jackie’s early years were full of struggle as he faced much racial discrimination growing up in a predominately white neighborhood. His focus turned to sports. He became a star athlete in high school, excelling in football, basketball, track, and baseball. And stardom continued as he moved on to Pasadena Junior College and later UCLA. At UCLA, Jackie became the first athlete to letter in four sports.

College & Early Adult Years

In 1941, Jackie left UCLA before earning his degree to support his family. He briefly played football for the Honolulu Bears before being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942 during World War II. He continued to face racial discrimination while in the military and was court-martialed for refusing to move to the back of a segregated bus. Jackie was acquitted and received an honorable discharge in 1944.

After the war, Jackie signed with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues. Where he thrived. His exceptional talent was noticed, and soon Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers general manager, came calling. Branch wanted to integrate baseball and believed Jackie had the talent and character to break the color barrier. With the weight of history on his shoulders, Jackie signed a minor league contract with the Montreal Royals in 1945.

Baseball Career

Jackie stepped onto the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers for the first time on April 15, 1947. The opposing teams, fans, and even some teammates hurled racial slurs and threats at him, but Jackie remained steadfast. Through the turmoil, he focused on his passion for the game and the importance of the opportunity. That first season for Jackie was remarkable. He batted .297, scored 125 runs, and was awarded the Rookie of the Year award.

Over the course of his ten-year career, Jackie earned six consecutive All-Star selections, a National League MVP award, and a World Series championship. As his fame grew, so did his influence in the fight for civil rights. After retiring in 1956, Jackie continued advocating for racial equality. Working alongside civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., he helped establish the Freedom National Bank and served on the board of the NAACP. And in 1965, Jackie broke barriers again when he became the first Black commentator for ABC’s Major League Baseball Game of the Week.

Jackie Robinson’s life was a tapestry of struggle, resilience, and triumph. He dared to defy the norms of his time, using his passion for sports and unyielding commitment to racial equality as a vehicle for change. His legacy remains a testament to the power of perseverance and the importance of fighting for justice, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Jackie passed away on October 24, 1972, at the age of 53, due to complications from heart disease and diabetes. In 1997, Major League Baseball retired his uniform number 42 across all teams, an unprecedented tribute.


Click here to read a Jackie Robinson quote about his upbringing.

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To cite: “Jackie Robinson: a snapshot biography.” Published by Historical Snapshots, https://historicalsnaps.com/2023/04/27/jackie-robinson-a-snapshot-biography/


National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution – NPG.97.135