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Jackie Robinson:

The Pinch Hitter of the Civil Rights Movement

Marc Reynolds

History 1700
Professor Clark
December 1, 2014

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The 1900s were a time of racial segregation. Separate bathrooms, buses, and drinking
fountains were part of everyday life as African Americans struggled to find an identity during the
Jim Crow era of the United States. Amidst the racial struggle at hand, Jim Crow Laws stretched
from the social aspects of life to the baseball diamond as many black athletes participated in
what was known as the Negro Leagues. Rube Foster, a baseball player himself, organized the
Negro Leagues in 19201, tapping into a gold mine of athletic talent that would change the game
of baseball forever. Although baseball was segregated by laweven to the extent that, it shall
be unlawful for any amateur white baseball team to play baseball on any vacant lot or baseball
diamond within two blocks of a playground devoted to the Negro race2it would all change
within a few short years.
A few decades later, as America entered into World War 2, many of the stars of the
Negro Leagues fought for freedoms on foreign lands that they didnt partake of at home.
However, the Negro Leagues flourished at this time, as three million fans saw Negro League
teams play3 during 1942. The frustration grew as many athletes returned home from the war to
only find similar hypocritical feelings to those of Nate Moreland who stated, I can play in
1. Tygiel, Jules. The Negro Leagues. OAH Magazine of History, 1992, Vol. 7, No.
History of Sport, Recreation, and Leisure, pp. 24.
2. United States. National Park Service. "Jim Crow Laws." National Parks Service.
October 1, 2014. Accessed October 7, 2014.
3. Tygiel, Jules. The Negro Leagues. OAH Magazine of History, 1992, Vol. 7, No.
History of Sport, Recreation, and Leisure, pp. 26.
4. Ibid.

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Mexico, but I have to fight for America where I cant play.4 A wartime Negro baseball
magazine printed in 1944 (See Figure 1) portrays a player of the Negro Leagues throwing a
baseball with a background of an African-American soldier fighting in World War 2, throwing a
grenade.5 Since both subjects have their arms cocked in throwing position, virtually in the same
exact pose, the artist is depicting the widespread frustration of these Negro League players who
fought in the war and yet couldnt play professional baseball in the white leagues. Post World
War 2, the United States of America was ready for someone to break the color barrier and start
the process for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
After centuries of slavery in America, blacks would finally get their foot in the door via
baseball and Jackie Robinson. In 1947, Branch Rickey, manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers,
signed Jackie Robinson as the first Negro to achieve major-league baseball status in modern
times.6 The article written by Louis Effrat, likely a white male since he is writing for the New
York Times in the 1940s, has a generally positive outlook on the news of Jackie Robinson.
However, Effrat knows the culture and does offer forewarning by stating that the road wouldnt
be easy for Robinson in the near future since Southernersform about 60 per cent of the
leagues playing strength.7 In fact, Robinson received a death threat (See Figures 2 and 3) on
one occasion that reads, Robinson we are going to kill you if you attempt to enter a ballgame at

5. Rogosin, Donn. Invisible Men: Life in Baseball's Negro Leagues. New York City:
Kodansha America, 1995, pp. 166.
6. Effrat, Louis. Dodgers Purchase Robinson, First Negro in Modern Major League
Baseball. The New York Times, April 15, 1947.
7. Ibid.
8. "A Possible KKK Letter." A Possible KKK Letter. Accessed December 2, 2014.
http://www.umass.edu/pubaffs/jackie/proballc12b.html.

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Crosley Field.8 If that wasnt enough of a threat, the letter continued saying, Note we have
already got rid of several like you. One was found in river just recently.9 The handwriting on
the note is haunting and the threats expressed through the rough script are quite intimidating, yet
Robinson never allowed the threats to affect his demeanor to be a leader because he used such
instances to forge his character. The evidence is found in a document (See Figure 4) from the
database in Cooperstown, New York, that depicts Robinson hitting a homerun during a baseball
game with two white men in the foreground saying, Looks like that threat idea didnt work.10
Throughout all of the threats and taunts that Robinson received during his career, he also
received a lot of encouragement. Outside of the Dodgers ballpark during Robinsons debut with
the Dodgers, Im for Robinson buttons were sold in support for the newcomers debut.11
Branch Rickey stated, I cannot face my God much longer knowing that His black creatures are
held separate and distinct from His white creatures in the game that has given me all that I call
my own.12 The fact that Rickey brings religion and God into the equation is intriguing because
for centuries slave owners believed that it was Gods will that slavery existed upon the earth. It is
evident that Rickey was blazing trails for Jackie Robinson to assume the role of Civil Rights
leader that he would soon become.

9. Ibid.
10. "Brooklyn's Hero." Brooklyn's Hero. Accessed December 2, 2014.
http://www.umass.edu/pubaffs/jackie/proballc5.html.
11. Effrat, Louis. Dodgers Purchase Robinson, First Negro in Modern Major League
Baseball. The New York Times, April 15, 1947.
12. Cohane, Tim. A Branch Grows in Brooklyn. LOOK. V. 10, No. 6, March 19, 1946,
p. 70.

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The most intriguing document that emphasizes the growing impact Jackie Robinson
would have on the citizens of the United States of America is found in a personal, typed letter
from a white southerner to Jackie Robinson, himself. The letter begins by Rodney Fisher
addressing Robinson as a friend and saying, Just a note to you to tell you I think you are doing a
swell job out there.13 The fact that Fisher takes the time to congratulate Robinson on doing a
swell job is momentous for this time period of the Jim Crow era. Fisher continues by saying, I
happen to be a white Southerner. But I just wanted you to know that not all us southerners are S.
O. B. s. Heres one that is rooting for you to make good and, to tell the truth, I imagine theres
a lot more of us that feel the same way.14 The way that Fisher conducts himself in the letters,
seems to be of the upper class due to his vocabulary and the fact that it is a letter written by
typewriter. This is significant because the upper class is the influential part of white societythe
ones that are on the top of the hierarchy in society and make the decisions. If Jackie Robinsons
example is reaching out to upper class, white Southerners, then its safe to say that he is having
quite an impact on the country. Fishers next words are extraordinary as he relates Robinson to
some of the greatest leaders of the black community. I know that very few of us whites can
understand the terrific pressure put on you but I know, at least, that you are doing every bit as
good a job for your race as a Booker T. Washington, a George Washington Carver, or a Marian

13. "A Fan's Letter." A Fan's Letter. May 19, 1947. Accessed December 2, 2014.
http://www.umass.edu/pubaffs/jackie/proballc12a.html.
14. Ibid.
15. Ibid.

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Anderson. I should also say that youre doing a darned fine job for all Americans.15 Fisher
supports the argument that Robinson was becoming a leader for Civil Rights in America.
Just a few years after Jackie Robinson retired from professional baseball, a letter was
written to President Eisenhower with regards to the Civil Rights of the black community. In the
letter, Robinson addresses the President and states, I was sitting in the audience at the Summit
Meeting of Negro Leaders yesterday when you said we must have patience. On hearing you say
this, I felt like standing up and saying, Oh no! Not again I respectfully remind you sir, that we
have been the most patient of all people.16 In this letter to the President, it is necessary to point
out that Robinson is present at the Summit Meeting of Negro Leaders. The significance of this is
outstanding because not any African-American citizen can attend such prestigious meetings of
leadershiponly those who are chosen and esteemed as leaders can attend.
Robinson continues by saying, 17 million Negroes cannot do as you suggest and wait
for the hearts of men to change. We want to enjoy now the rights that we feel we are entitled to
as Americans. This we cannot do unless we pursue aggressively goals which all other Americans
achieved over 150 years ago.17 Robinson uses the term we to describe the black community
and groups 17 million Negroes together acting as a leader to push for equal rights for AfricanAmerican citizens. With the amount of prestige that Robinson had gained from his days playing

16. Robinson, Jackie R. Letter from Jackie Robinson to President Dwight D. Eisenhower;
White House Central Files Box 731; File: OF-142-A-3; Dwight D. Eisenhower Library;
National Archives and Records Administration, May, 26, 1958. Date Accessed: October 5,
2014.
17. Ibid.

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professional baseball, he was in good standing to be able to write the President of the United
States, in favor of 17 million Negroes and ask him to rethink what he had said the day before.
Those are the actions of an eminent leader.
Jackie Robinson not only had correspondence with Presidents of the United States, but he
also was in very active participation with Martin Luther King Jr. In a letter dated October 9,
1962, Robinson addresses Reverend King as Martin and says, I am sure you know that no
thanks is needed. I am happy to be able to accept my share of the responsibility. I consider my
participation a privilege. If I have helped, I am only repaying a debt.18 Robinson and King
clearly have a good relationship due to the fact that Reverend King is addressed simply as
Martin. When Jackie Robinson talks about the responsibility that he is taking on and the fact that
it is a privilege, it appears to be that Robinson has quite a high ranking in the social makeup of
the Civil Rights Movement. In the last paragraph of his letter, Robinson talks politics with
Reverend King, asking for an appraisal of the Governor19 and mentioning an endorsement
in order to see changes made in the Kennedy administration.20
What appears so interesting here is the fact that Jackie Robinsons active involvement in
the Civil Rights Movement appears to surface through private letters to and from political and

18. Robinson, Jackie R. Letter from Jackie Robinson to MLK, October 9, 1962. Letter.
From the King Center. Date Accessed: 7, October, 2014.
19. Ibid.
20. Ibid.
21. Robinson, Jackie. "Jim Crow, Meet Lieutenant Robinson." National Archives. July
16, 1944. Accessed December 1, 2014. "Larger Image." National Archives and Records
Administration. Accessed December 2, 2014.

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social leaders. However, it is evident that Jackie Robinson made strides in the fight for Civil
Rights long before Rosa Parks sat on a bus and well before Martin Luther King Jr. had a
dream. The influence and impact that Jackie Robinson had on the United States of America and
its citizens is everlasting and eternal. Although Jackie Robinson wasnt a leader of any physical
protests in the 1960s, some of his actions are overshadowed by the general conception of big
Civil Rights events such as the sit-ins, the freedom rides, and the Birmingham protests.
Interestingly enough, in 194421, approximately eleven years prior to Rosa Parks bus incident,
Jackie Robinson refused to sit at the back of the bus while serving at Camp Hood in Texas, yet
nobody hears about it because it is overshadowed by Rosa Parks.
Jackie Robinson deserves to have his name be considered among the great Civil Rights
leaders such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. because Robinson opened the door for
racial tolerance in the mid-1900s, years before Parks or King were active in their demonstrations.
There is evidence of Robinsons reaching and lasting influence on people such as white
southerners, which, during the time of the Jim Crow Laws, was quite a feat in itself. Robinson
was able to tolerate direct discrimination, being the only black baseball player in professional
baseball. He was ridiculed at games and his life was threatened by white southerners, yet
Robinson remained calm and played his part as the pinch hitter of the Civil Rights Movement in
the 1960s.

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Notes
Figure 1:
Figure 2:

Figure 3:

Figure 4:

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Bibliography
"A Fan's Letter." A Fan's Letter. May 19, 1947. Accessed December 2, 2014.
http://www.umass.edu/pubaffs/jackie/proballc12a.html.
"A Possible KKK Letter." A Possible KKK Letter. Accessed December 2, 2014.
http://www.umass.edu/pubaffs/jackie/proballc12b.html.
"Brooklyn's Hero." Brooklyn's Hero. Accessed December 2, 2014.
http://www.umass.edu/pubaffs/jackie/proballc5.html.
Cohane, Tim. A Branch Grows in Brooklyn. LOOK. V. 10, No. 6, March 19, 1946, p.
70.
Effrat, Louis. Dodgers Purchase Robinson, First Negro in Modern Major League
Baseball. The New York Times, April 15, 1947.
Robinson, Jackie. "Jim Crow, Meet Lieutenant Robinson." National Archives. July 16,
1944. Accessed December 1, 2014. "Larger Image." National Archives and Records
Administration. Accessed December 2, 2014.
Robinson, Jackie R. Letter from Jackie Robinson to MLK, October 9, 1962. Letter. From
the King Center. Date Accessed: 7, October, 2014.
Robinson, Jackie R. Letter from Jackie Robinson to President Dwight D. Eisenhower;
White House Central Files Box 731; File: OF-142-A-3; Dwight D. Eisenhower Library;
Rogosin, Donn. Invisible Men: Life in Baseball's Negro Leagues. New York City:
Kodansha America, 1995, pp. 166.
National Archives and Records Administration, May, 26, 1958. Date Accessed: October
5, 2014.

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Tygiel, Jules. The Negro Leagues. OAH Magazine of History, 1992, Vol. 7, No. 1,
History of Sport, Recreation, and Leisure, pp. 24.
United States. National Park Service. "Jim Crow Laws." National Parks Service. October
1, 2014. Accessed October 7, 2014.