The date of 15 April 1947 is one of the most momentous in the history of American sporting and cultural life. If its significance was lost on those outside the US at the time, the prevailing years have shown its importance.
The bravery and skill of one sportsman and the idealism and opportunism of one businessman played a vital part in a revolution in sport and society. After the American Civil War, black athletes made inroads into professional sport, but as segregation took hold in the 1880s the few black baseball players who made it to the major leagues lost their places. In the following 60 years, the all-white sports of the US existed alongside their "Negro League" counterparts and only boxing pitted black and white together in mainstream professional competition.
John Roosevelt Robinson (1919-72) was an outstanding all-round athlete in college before joining the army during the Second World War. He returned to a racist country and, in the southern states, segregation in every aspect of life. After the war, the owners of the then 16 major league teams had a secret meeting where they voted 15 to one against allowing black players into their clubs. The dissenting voice belonged to Branch Rickey, president of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Robinson was identified as a gifted batter, infielder and base runner while playing for the the all-black Kansas City Monarchs. Rickey, a deeply religious man, was convinced that integration would have wider social benefits. He asked Robinson to spend two …