“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” (Jack (‘Jackie’) Roosevelt Robinson)
He was born on January 31, 1919 in Cairo, Georgia, the fifth, and last child of Mallie and Jerry Robinson. (In 1936, his older brother Mack won an Olympic silver medal in the 200-meter dash (behind Jesse Owens.))
Jackie was a four-sport athlete in high school and college; during a spectacular athletic career at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA,) he had starred in basketball, football, track, and baseball (and became the first student to earn varsity letters in four sports: football (1939 and 1940,) basketball (1940 and 1941,) track (1940) and baseball (1940.)
After exhausting his sports eligibility, Jackie decided to leave UCLA before attaining his degree, despite his mother’s objection, because he wanted to repay her for supporting him during his college career.
Jackie found a job in the winter of 1941 in Honolulu, where he played in the semipro Hawaii Senior Football League for the Honolulu Bears, who had joined the league in 1939 as the Polar Bears or the Hawaiian Vacation Team. (Ardolino)
Unlike the other three teams, the University of Hawaii Rainbows, the Na Aliis (Chiefs) and the Healanis (the Maroons,) the Bears signed their players to contracts, giving Robinson a paying sports job. (Ardolino)
He was paid a $150 advance (deducted from his salary,) a fee of $100 per game, a bonus if the team won the championship and a draft-deferred construction job near Pearl Harbor.
He arrived to great fanfare as the league’s all star, had some superb moments, but succumbed to a recurring injury and faded in the last games.
He stayed at Palama Settlement, rather than with the team in Waikiki (the hotels barred him entry because of the color of his skin.) (PBS)
Their first exhibition game was in Pearl Harbor. Jackie left Honolulu on December 5, 1941, just two days before the Japanese attacked. He was on the Lurline on his way home when Congress formally declared war. He was shortly thereafter inducted into the Army.
Stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, he was originally denied entry into Officer Candidate School despite his college background. Intervention by a fellow soldier, boxing great Joe Louis, who was also stationed at the base, managed to get the decision reversed. (Swaine)
While in the Army, he had an incident similar to Rosa Parks – on July 6, 1944, Robinson, a twenty-five-year-old lieutenant, boarded an Army bus at Fort Hood, Texas.
He was with the light-skinned wife of a fellow black officer, and the two walked half the length of the bus, then sat down, talking amiably. The driver, gazing into his rear-view mirror, saw a black officer seated in the middle of the bus next to a woman who appeared to be white. Hey, you, sittin’ beside that woman,” he yelled. “Get to the back of the bus.”
Lieutenant Robinson ignored the order. The driver stopped the bus, marched back to where the two passengers were sitting, and demanded that the lieutenant “get to the back of the bus where the colored people belong.”
Lieutenant Robinson told the driver: “The Army recently issued orders that there is to be no more racial segregation on any Army post. This is an Army bus operating on an Army post.”
The man backed down, but at the end of the line, as Robinson and Mrs. Jones waited for a second bus, he returned with his dispatcher and two other drivers. Robinson refused, and so began a series of events that led to his arrest and court-martial and, finally, threatened his entire career.
Later, all charges stemming from the actual incident on the bus and Robinson’s argument with the civilian secretary were dropped. He had still to face a court-martial, but on the two lesser charges of insubordination arising from his confrontation in the guardhouse.
The court-martial of 2d Lt. Jackie Robinson took place on August 2, 1944. After testimony, voting by secret written ballot, the nine judges found Robinson “not guilty of all specifications and charges.” (Tygiel) In November 1944, he received an honorable discharge and then started his professional baseball career.
He played for the Kansas City Monarchs as a part of the Negro Leagues until Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey decided he wanted to integrate baseball. (Hall of Fame)
On October 23, 1945, it was announced to the world that Robinson had signed a contract to play baseball for the Montreal Royals of the International League, the top minor-league team in the Dodgers organization.
Robinson had actually signed a few months earlier. In that now-legendary meeting, Rickey extracted a promise that Jackie would hold his sharp tongue and quick fists in exchange for the opportunity to break Organized Baseball’s color barrier. (Swain)
Robinson led the International League with a .349 average and 40 stolen bases. He earned a promotion to the Dodgers. (Hall of Fame)
On April 15, 1947 Jackie Robinson started at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers in their opening-day game against the Boston Braves. In so doing, he became the first African-American to play in the major leagues since an abortive attempt at integration in 1884. (Schwarz)
At the end of his first season, Robinson was named the Rookie of the Year. He was named the NL MVP just two years later in 1949, when he led the league in hitting with a .342 average and steals with 37, while also notching a career-high 124 RBI. The Dodgers won six pennants in Robinson’s 10 seasons. (Hall of Fame)
Playing football was not Robinson’s only sports experience in Hawaiʻi; immediately following the 1956 Worlds Series (that the Dodgers lost to the Yankees,) on October 12, 1956, the Dodgers went on a Japan exhibition tour.
Along the way, Robinson and the Dodgers stopped for pre-tour exhibitions in Hawaii with games against the Maui All-Stars, the Hawaiian All-Stars and the Hawaiian champion Red Sox. (Jackie Robinson died on October 24, 1972 at the age of 53.)