On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson put on his first Brooklyn Dodgers uniform (number 42) and broke the Major League Baseball “color line”. Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey signed a contract with Robinson to play for the team on October 23, 1945. Robinson then spent a year on a minor league team to sharpen his skills. Rickey, who called the move baseball’s “great experiment,” chose Robinson because of his excellent athletic record and strength of character. The first player to “cross the color line” would have to be able to withstand intense public scrutiny and avoid confrontation even when met with insults and hostility.
Robinson was a well-rounded athlete, having competed in college baseball, football, basketball, and track. He had served in the Army and was active in the Civil Rights Movement. Robinson was a professional player for the Kansas City Monarchs, an all-Black team in the Negro American League.
America is…more interested in the grace of a man’s swing, in the dexterity of his cutting a base, and his speed afoot, in his scientific body control, in his excellence as a competitor on the field…than they are in the pigmentation of a man’s skin…
Speech by Branch Rickey for the “One Hundred Percent Wrong Club” Banquet, Atlanta, Georgia, January 20, 1956. Baseball, the Color Line, and Jackie Robinson, articles from By Popular Demand: Jackie Robinson and Other Baseball Highlights, 1860s-1960s. Manuscript Division
Not only was Robinson able to quell opposition to his presence on the field, but he quickly won the respect and enthusiasm of the fans. He finished his first season batting .297 and led the National League in stolen bases with 29, earning baseball’s first Rookie of the Year Award. Two years later in 1949 he won the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award, leading the league with a .342 batting average and 37 stolen bases.
Off the field, Robinson was the subject of everything from songs to a feature-length film about his life. He even starred as himself in the movie, “The Jackie Robinson Story.” Released in 1950, it was one of the first films to portray a Black man as an American hero.
In 1955, after getting close several times, Robinson finally played on a world-champion team when the Dodgers beat the Yankees in the World Series. He retired from baseball after the 1956 season with a lifetime batting average of .311 and the distinction of having stolen home an incredible 19 times. A legend even in his day, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, his first year of eligibility.
- Explore the online exhibit, Baseball Americana to consider the game then and now—as it relates to players, teams, and the communities it creates.
- The collection By Popular Demand: Jackie Robinson and Other Baseball Highlights, 1860s-1960s draws on manuscripts, books, photographs, and ephemera from the Library’s collections which tell Robinson’s story and the story of the history of the sport. View the special presentation Baseball, the Color Line, and Jackie Robinson to see these artifacts of America’s national pastime. See the collection’s annotated bibliography to read more about Jackie Robinson’s life and this era of baseball.
- Teachers may find the following resources focused on baseball useful to explore the American experience regarding race and ethnicity:
- Baseball, Race Relations and Jackie Robinson
- Baseball, Race and Ethnicity: Rounding the Bases
- Baseball Across a Changing Nation
- See the special presentation Early Baseball Pictures, 1860s-1920s in the collection By Popular Demand: Jackie Robinson and Other Baseball Highlights, 1860s-1960s to find pictures and stories of the game.
- Browse the collection Baseball Cards to see baseball greats pictured in this collection of 2100 early baseball cards.
- Search across the collections on baseball to find more images and stories about the great American pastime. See, for example, The Brooklyn Baseball Club  in the collection Panoramic Photographs.
- Search Today in History on baseball for features on legendary players in baseball history such as Cy Young, Satchel Paige, and Connie Mack, and on other important baseball events such as the first World Series.