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Celebrating Jackie Robinson's Legacy

Decades ago, major-league baseball was played only by white people — until Jackie Robinson came along. 

  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

Before April 15, 1947, major-league baseball was a game of one color. The only people who were allowed to play were white. Sixty years later, baseball is celebrating the man who broke that color line.

His name is Jackie Robinson, and many regard him as possibly the most courageous and revered player in sports history — not because of his batting average or his stolen bases, but because he changed the game forever.

Robinson, who broke in with the Brooklyn Dodgers and played his entire career in New York, had to endure taunting, death threats, boycotts, and even pitches aimed at his head. It would’ve been easy to give up or give in, but Jackie Robinson persevered.

“He’s a real part of history, not just athletically, but socially,” Willie Randolph, manager of the New York Mets, said at a celebration in New York on January 22, 2007. The event commemorated the 60th anniversary of Robinson's arrival in major-league baseball. It was sponsored by the Jackie Robinson Foundation, an organization that carries on Robinson's legacy.

Randolph, who is African-American and who grew up in Brooklyn, idolized Robinson. The first book Randolph ever read was The Jackie Robinson Story.
 

Kid Reporter Sean Coffey with Willie Randolph.
Kid Reporter Sean Coffey interviews Willie Randolph,
manager of the New York Mets. (Photo: Denise Willi)

”There are so many great things for people of all races to remember and honor him for,” Randolph said.

Thirty-five years after Robinson’s death, at age 53, Rachel Robinson continues to honor her husband through the Jackie Robinson Foundation. The foundation provides scholarships to help minority students attend college. In all, more than 1,100 students have received scholarships, including 266 this year. Jackie Robinson scholars have a graduation rate of 97 percent.

“I think what we're hoping for is that our scholars will individually be inspired to do the best they can do and be the best they can be to help others," said Mrs. Robinson, radiant at 86. "Jackie’s [guiding words] were, 'A life is not important except in its impact on other lives.' That's what I hope young people like you will do. You'll look around you and say, ‘How can I help? What can I do for others?’”

Once, when Jackie was playing in the minor leagues, there was a game during which the opposing team locked the gates — because they didn’t want a black player on their field. Despite abuse like this, Robinson kept showing up. The result is that today, major-league baseball teams have players of many colors and nationalities.

“I think Jackie would be somewhat pleased [with baseball], but he’d probably feel that
there's more progress to be made,” Randolph said.

In memory of his legacy, Jackie’s number — 42 — has been officially retired, meaning that no player will be given that number again.


For more on the achievements and contributions of African Americans to U.S. History, return to the Scholastic Kids Press Corps' Black History Month Special Report.

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  • Subjects:
    American History, African American, Tolerance and Acceptance, Prejudice and Tolerance Experiences
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Scholastic Kids Press Corps

The Scholastic Kids Press Corps is a team of 32 student reporters who report "news for kids, by kids." Sports, politics, and entertainment are among the topics they cover.