Rhetoric, Religion and the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1965

By Davis W. Houck; David E. Dixon | Go to book overview

1956
§20 Branch Rickey

Wesley “Branch” Rickey pioneered the integration of Major League Baseball. Born on December 20, 1881 in Stockdale, Ohio, Rickey had a mediocre career as a catcher for several professional franchises. An Ohio Wesleyan University graduate, the Cincinnati Reds dropped Rickey after he refused to play Sundays. Shortly thereafter, Rickey moved into baseball’s executive office. For nearly half a century, Rickey oversaw the administrative efforts of the St. Louis Cardinals, Brooklyn Dodgers, and Pittsburgh Pirates. He was one of baseball’s great innovators, introducing the minor league farm system, spring training facilities, and a number of training devices, such as the batting cage. Branch Rickey’s fame, though, stems from a decision he made during his tenure as General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1945, acting on his idealism and his managerial acumen, he signed Negro League star Jackie Robinson to a professional contract, thereby beginning the process of Major League Baseball’s integration. An innovator until the end, Rickey died on December 9, 1965.

Jackie Robinson was a star athlete long before he broke baseball’s color barrier. Born in Cairo, Georgia on January 31, 1919 his resume included athletic competition at both Pasadena Community College and UCLA. During his time at UCLA, Robinson became the school’s first athlete to letter in four different sports. After a two-year stint in the army—Robinson was honorably discharged in 1944 following an unsuccessful court-martial attempt for insubordination—he returned to baseball by signing a one-year contract with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League. His success in Kansas City led Dodgers’ General Manager Branch Rickey to the Midwest. Upon meeting Rickey, Robinson said, “But if Mr. Rickey hadn’t signed me, I wouldn’t have played another year in the black league. It was too difficult. The travel was brutal. Financially, there was no reward. It took everything you make to live off.” Rickey signed Robinson to a major league contract, and in 1947 Robinson won the National League Rookie of the Year Award. This was the first of many achievements for Robinson, who ended his career with six World Series appearances and a league Most Valuable Player award. Robinson was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, the first black player to “integrate” Cooperstown, New York as well. Very active in the civil rights movement, Robinson served on the board of the NAACP until 1967. Grieved by the death of his oldest son in an automobile accident in 1971, Robinson soon succumbed to complications from diabetes on October 24, 1972. A wife and two children survive him. In 1997 Major League Baseball retired his number 42 forever and made April 15, Jackie Robinson Day.

Rickey begins his speech to the Atlanta One Hundred Percent Wrong Club banquet by examining several problems that barricade Negroes from entering Major

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