In honor of Martin Luther King Day, the staff here at 108 Red Stitches decided honor King's Legacy by writing about African American Pioneers in the game of baseball. First up, is "Hall of Famer" Jackie Robinson. Robinson is most famous for breaking baseball's color barrier while playing for the Dodgers. Often overlooked is the way the media and others treated him at the time. Here is the first installment of "Baseball's Great Experiment; Jackie Robinson".

The Constitution says that “all men are created equal”. African Americans served with honor throughout World War One and World War Two. In the North, many African Americans were beginning to realize the dreams their ancestors laid out before them. America, during the middle of the 1940’s and the early 1950’s was undergoing a period of change. Change (although slow at first) effected everything except for the heart of America; baseball. Baseball has been given the title “America’s Pastime”, and up until the end of the second World War, baseball had refused to break down the color barrier that had clouded the game. All that would change with the help of “the founder of the farm system” and a no-name from the Negro Leagues.

In the film “Field of Dreams” Terrance Mann (played by James Earl Jones) says;

“The one constant through all the years has been baseball.
America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been
erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball
has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.”(

There has never been a greater quote used to describe baseball, and never has their been a quote like this that so accurately depicts what Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson were trying to accomplish during the Summer of 1947; erase America’s blackboard and rebuild it.

Born Jack Roosevelt Robinson on January 31, 1919, the son of a farmer from Cairo, Georgia would soon face one of life's many hardships that would shadow his life. His father, Jerry Robinson, (owner of a small farm) eventually grew weary of the monotonous motion of his life, and ran away to Florida with another woman. Jackie’s mother decided that Cairo was no place to raise her family, so they moved to Pasadena, California. In his book, Jackie Robinson, A Life Remembered, Maury Allen interviewed Mack Robinson, one of Jackie’s older brothers. Mac said “What my mother didn’t know, when she brought us here, what none of us knew, was that Pasadena was as prejudiced as any town in the South. They let us in alright, but they wouldn’t let us live” (Allen; 19).

Robinson would eventually attend UCLA because of the college’s proximity to his mother. There, Robinson excelled in football, basketball, and most importantly baseball. It was after his college days that Jackie Robinson began to show a glimpse of what was to come.

Just before being deployed oversees to fight in World War Two, Robinson engaged in a dispute that almost ended his military career in disgrace. Robinson got on a bus at Camp Hood (his military base located in Texas) to go to a hospital in Temple. Robinson decided to sit in one of the seats located in the middle of the bus and, eventually, an argument between Milton Renegar (the driver) and Robinson ensued. Renegar commanded Robinson to move to the back and threatened to cause trouble with his officers once they reached the hospital. Robinson refused. “Robinson had obeyed Texas law requiring Jim Crow seating on the bus. But he also knew that the Army now forbade segregation on its military bases” (Rampersad; 102). Things began to spiral out of control, and soon enough, Robinson found himself in front of a court martial panel. In one of Robinson’s biographies, Arnold Rampersad writes about the trail:

“Clearly, almost all of the whites involved were genuinely
mystified that Robinson disliked being badly treated. The white
private, Ben Mucklerath, denied that he had called Robinson a
nigger, as Robinson charged; but Corporal Elwood, the first MP
on the scene, testified the Mucklerath ‘came over to the pickup
and asked me if I got that nigger Lieutenant. Right then the
Lieutenant said, ‘ Look here, you s son-of-a-bitch, don’t you call
me no nigger’. (Rampersad; 107)

Robinson’s testimony to those hearing the court martial open a portal that reveals the strength and intestinal fortitude that he latter called upon when dealing with the media during his baseball career. Robinson took the stand, on his own free will, and delivered a speech that would effect the outcome of his trial;

“ To the question ‘Do you know what a nigger is?’ Robinson
replied: “I looked it up once, but my grandmother gave me a good
definition, she was a slave, and she said the definition of the word
was a low, uncouth person, and pertains to no one in particular; but I
don’t consider that I am low and uncouth. I looked it up in the
dictionary afterwards and it says the word nigger pertains to the
negroid or negro, but it is also a machine used in a saw mill for pushing
logs into the saws. I objected to being called a nigger by this private
or by anybody else. When I made this statement that I did not like
to be called a nigger, I told the Captain, I said, ‘If you call me a nigger,
I might have to say the same thing to you...I don't not consider
myself a nigger at all,I am a negro, but not a nigger.’ (Rampersad; 108).

Robinson was soon after acquitted of all charges against him, but the trail lasted long enough where Robinson wasn’t able to meet up with the rest of his battalion, who had just left for Omaha Beach. “On November 28, 1944, Robinson was ‘honorably relieved from active duty’ in the U.S. Army ‘by reason of physical disqualification’ (Rampersad; 111).

After his discharge, Robinson soon found himself in a new uniform.

To be continued.