When most African Americans think of Jackie Robinson, they think of the ultimate symbol of racial pride and progress in the sports arena. Jackie Robinson represented that symbol when he was chosen as the first African American to play in modern times for the Major League Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson was chosen to fill these shoes by Branch Rickey, president and general manager of the Dodgers. October 23, 1945 was the date that Robinson signed a contract to play with the Montreal Royals, a minor league affiliate of the Dodgers. This was Robinson's official first step to the majors, which came on April 15, 1947 when he entered Ebbets Field to play baseball with the Dodgers. This April 15, 1997 will be the 50th Anniversary of the celebrated date.
Jack (Jackie) Roosevelt Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia on January 31, 1919. He was the youngest of the five children of Jerry and Mallie Robinson. When Jackie's father Jerry, a sharecropper, left home seeking work, his mother, Mallie, decided to move west, seeking a better life with her children by her side. She was able to find a house in the suburbs of Pasadena, California. Life was not that easy for the Robinsons, being the only black family in this not so friendly area of California. Jackie and his older brother, Mack, took to sports early on in their school years. Mack became a world-class sprinter, and, by 1936, he was invited to compete in the 200 meter dash in the Olympics held in Berlin, Germany. He finished second to Jesse Owens, the African American hero of the 1936 Olympic Games.
Jackie Robinson, like most teens, joined a gang while going to school. He was headed for trouble, but, thanks to the positive influences of Carl Anderson, a local mechanic, and the minister, Reverend Karl Downs, Jackie made a change. Jackie even taught Sunday school lessons to youngsters at Sunday church each week. At John Muir Technical High school, Jackie Robinson learned to compete and win honors in sports. He earned high school letters in football, basketball, baseball, and track and field. Robinson attended Pasadena Junior College from September 1937 to August 1939. His athletic ability at Pasadena led to an athletic scholarship at UCLA (University of California at Los Angeles) starting in September of 1939.
At UCLA, Jackie Robinson was nothing less than spectacular.