Explore the life, career, and impact of one of the most important athletes of all-time: Jackie Robinson. Through key places from his life, we are able to see how the impact of his career transformed and transcended the sports world and our society.Less
Jackie Robinson was born January 19, 1919, in a farm house in the small, Southwest Georgia town of Cairo. The youngest of five, Jackie's parents were sharecroppers. Seeking job opportunities and better living conditions, Robinson’s mother, Millie, packed up her children and left Cairo in May of 1920.
In 1922, Jackie’s family moved cross-country, to a predominantly white neighborhood in Pasadena, CA, seeking a brighter future. It was there, according to the LA Times, that Robinson “first fired a baseball under the tutelage of three older brothers'' and “learned to run bases and hurdle potential tacklers.” As a teen, Robinson excelled in sports at Pasadena’s John Muir High School. In 1997, busts of Jackie and his Olympic silver medalist brother Mack were erected across from City Hall.
Jackie Robinson attended the then-named Pasadena Junior College from 1937-38, where he was a 4-sport star; excelling in basketball, baseball, track and field, and football. He holds the school record for the longest run from scrimmage at 99 yards. He broke his older brother Mack Robinson's (a PJC alum and 1936 Olympic silver medalist) national community college record for the longest broad jump at 25 feet, 6-1/2 inches. The school’s football stadium is named for Jackie and Mack Robinson.
A statue of Jackie Robinson in his Pasadena Junior College football uniform stands outside of Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, CA. Dedicated in 2017, the statue honors Robinson’s hometown roots and his accomplishments on and off the playing field. Robinson’s daughter, Sharon, said the tribute is “...fitting, considering that Pasadena has been home to generations of Robinsons.”
In 1941, Jackie Robinson moved to Hawaii to play semi-pro football for the racially integrated Honolulu Bears. The first exhibition game of the season was played in Pearl Harbor. On his first play, Robinson ran 41 yards for a touchdown. Following the game, he sailed back to the mainland on December 5, 1941. Two days later, on December 7, a Japanese squadron attacked Pearl Harbor, killing more than 2,400 and drawing the United States into World War II.
Drafted into the Army on April 3, 1942, Jackie Robinson was first stationed in a segregated, all-black unit at Fort Riley, KS. He observed that African Americans were not allowed to join Officers Candidate School. After protesting, he and several other African Americans were admitted, and eventually conferred officer status. As a second lieutenant, Robinson was one of the few African American officers in the military. Heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis served with Robinson at Fort Riley.
In 1944, Robinson faced a court-martial for insubordination while stationed at Fort Hood, TX. The charges stemmed from an encounter with two Army captains after Robinson refused to move to the back of a military bus on orders from a white bus driver. The trial drew widespread attention from the Black press, civil rights groups, and top military officials in Washington, DC. He was eventually acquitted of all charges. Four months later, Robinson asked for and received an honorable discharge.
Following his discharge from the military, Robinson was hired to coach basketball and serve as a physical education instructor at the historically black Sam Huston College in 1944-45. The school’s president, Rev. Karl Downs, who hired Robinson, was pastor at Robinson’s home church in Pasadena. Growing up without a father at home, Robinson’s wife, Rachel, recalled that "Jack said Karl's intervention—he called it a 'rescue'—changed the course of his life." Downs on far the right, next to Robinson.
During his lone season as a player with the Kansas City Monarchs, Jackie Robinson participated in the 1945 Negro League’s East-West All-Star Game played at Chicago’s Comiskey Park. It was an annual contest that drew Black celebrities like Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, and Joe Louis. Historian John Holway said of the event’s aura, "It was more of a World Series than the World Series was."
Before his historic 1947 Major League debut, Jackie Robinson spent 1946 with the Brooklyn Dodgers' Triple-A team, the Montreal Royals. The Royals played at Delorimier Stadium. In that ’46 season, Robinson hit .349 and stole 40 bases to help Montreal win the International League championship, then known as the “Little” World Series. Following his final game at Delorimier, fans carried Robinson off the field on their shoulders. Robinson called his time playing and living in Montreal “paradise."