As Jackie Robinson day has come to pass it is fitting and essential we expand our discussions from all things Marlins and consider the significance of Robinson’s actions and overall societal impact on baseball and of our great nation.
The following is an excerpt from an Extended Essay by Matthew Schnur titled “Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Major League Baseball and its impact on the Civil Rights Movement.”
Throughout American History it can be said that, baseball, America’s pastime, has served as a “definer of American values” since it has served a great purpose of providing a means of moral support throughout the course of two world wars. The Civil Rights Movement would prove to be no different in this aspect. While baseball’s biggest stars went off to fight in World War II, President Roosevelt felt that “it would honestly be best to keep baseball going.” He was of the opinion that baseball had a key role in preserving morale at home. In later years baseball would be at the forefront of another milestone in American History: integration and the Civil Rights Movement.
While baseball was forced to adapt because of World War II, in the case of integration and the Civil Rights movement baseball was at the forefront of its occurrence. After General Eisenhower segregated his regiment and before President Truman ordered the integration of the army in Executive Order 9981, Branch Rickey and the Brooklyn Dodgers began their own experiment. Prior to the implementation of the “Great Experiment”, baseball, like the rest of society was segregated. African-American athletes were relegated to play in the Negro Leagues. The Negro Leagues were immensely popular among African-Americans’, yet,athletes such as Buck O’Neil and Satchel Paige relished the chance to play in the Major’s. Baseball’s “Great Experiment” occurred for a variety of reasons and began when Jackie Robinson signed to play for the Dodgers. Baseball, was the first case in which society could see African-Americans and Caucasians play on a level surface. As a national sport, Baseball gave the common man exposure to the positive aspects of integration.
The success of African American’s in sports helped show that “the desegregation of baseball that Robinson had pioneered proved that integration could work in America and inspired others to try and make it work in different areas.” This idea indicates that integration originally succeeded in baseball and as fans and society became aware of it, America began to root for an African-American. The positive traits in which star African-American athletes held enabled society to identify with them, see from their point of view and call for equality as a result. An athlete’s ability to conjure these feelings within society enabled it to unite under the common goal to acquire equality for all. It is in this way that Robinson’s success in baseball inspired young African-American’s to dream about playing sports. Their collective success would transcend into society as demonstrated by the ensuing civil rights legislation. Historians are in accordance with the idea that the success of Jackie Robinson encouraged integration and equal rights in the United States.
It is claimed that Robinson helped to “turn an upside down nation right side up.” The official baseball historian,John Thorn, felt “most proud to be an American and a baseball fan when baseball has led America rather than followed it. Jackie Robinson was an individual who shaped the crowd.” In reference to Robinson, President Reagan said that “he struck a mighty blow for equality, freedom and the American way of life.” Robinson clearly stimulated a sense of pride and equality within America through the impact of baseball. “It is said that Robinson created a ripple effect which prompted mass integration and inclusion throughout the country. He let people see what was right and what was just.” As evidenced by the actions of prospective athletes and the opinion of politicians and journalists, Jackie Robinson came to “rectify a wrong and to heal a sore in America.”