Introduction to The Jackie Robinson Reader
Extraordinary lives often reveal ordinary truths. Jackie Robinson was born in 1919 and died in 1972. He crammed into these brief ﬁfty-three years a legacy of accomplishment, acclaim, controversy, and inﬂuence matched by few Americans. He was, even before his historic baseball breakthrough, an athlete of legendary proportions. He won fame and adulation as the ﬁrst African-American to play in the major leagues in the twentieth century, launching an athletic revolution that transformed American sports. He garnered baseball's highest honors: Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player, and ﬁrst-ballot election to the Hall of Fame. More signiﬁcantly, Robinson became a symbol of racial integration and a prominent leader in the civil rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s. Yet Jackie Robinson's half century among us illuminates not just the contours of an exceptional life, but much about the broader African-American experience of those years.
Jackie Robinson was born in Georgia in the heart of the segregated South, the grandson of a slave and the son of sharecrop farmers. While Jackie was still an infant, his father, Jerry Robinson, abandoned the family. His mother, Mallie, seeking a better life for Jackie and his four older siblings, joined the post—World War “great migration” of African Americans out of the South. Most blacks traveled to the eastern metropolises: New York, Philadelphia, Washington, or to Midwestern manufacturing centers like Chicago and Detroit. Mallie Robinson, on the advice of a brother, headed west to California.
African Americans were relatively rare in California in the 1920s. Although Mexican-born blacks had ﬁgured prominently in the early settlement of the region, by the early twentieth century blacks accounted for only 1 percent of the state's population. Those who lived there confronted a pattern of discrimination common to the American West. Although few laws addressed the issue of black-white relations, widely established and