It was on this date, 15 April, in 1947, that Jackie Robinson, a US Army veteran and UCLA graduate, made his debut as the first African-American to take the field for a Major League baseball team (life-long baseball fan Richard Nixon pays a locker room visit to Robinson in the photo above).
Robinson had played for the Kansas City Monarchs, a ‘Negro League’ team. There was no statute officially banning blacks from baseball, only a universally recognized unwritten rule which no club owner was prepared to break, until Brooklyn Dodgers outspoken owner Branch Rickey acted and signed Robinson.
Agitation for the integration of baseball had been brewing for some time prior to the signing of Robinson. The New York based, ‘Daily Worker’ newspaper kept up a relentless campaign for over 10 years under the direction of Sports page editor, Lester Rodney. New York City politician, Fiorello La Guardia, was also a vocal advocate to open the majors to African-American talent, and such African-American sports icons as Jesse Owens and Joe Louis also helped pave the way to recognition and acceptance.
Robinson’s road in the majors was not a smooth one however. He was frequently taunted from the stands with racist hate speech and occasionally even had to endure the taunts and cold shoulders of his own teammates. Gradually, the team began to unite around Robinson and in some extraordinary instances, members of opposing teams would go out of their ways to extend their well wishes to him even as they competed against one another.
In 2004, Major League Baseball instituted a ‘Jackie Robinson Day’, in which all players wear the number ‘42’, Robinson’s number, on 15 April.