One could argue that America’s struggle for justice is as old as the nation itself, and this may help explain why one of the goals of our national government is to create a more perfect union, as stated in the Preamble of our U.S. Constitution. Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., has also declared, “the struggles of black Americans are fundamental to the very meaning of the United States itself.”
Much of our American story has been about the black Americans’ struggle to win full equality of citizenship in this great nation. Just recently, one of those chapters, highlighting that fight to win full equality of citizenship, helping us better realize America’s potential, was remembered and celebrated on Friday, April 15, with Major League baseball observing “Jackie Robinson Day,” an observation that began in 2004.
The event responsible for this great tribute to Jackie Robinson had occurred nearly ten decades ago, on the historic day of April 15, 1947. That’s the day Jackie Robinson became the first black Major League player in the modern era, breaking the color-barrier in Major League baseball, with the Brooklyn Dodgers. That same year, he was named the National League Rookie of the Year, and just two years later, Jackie was honored as being the National League Most Valuable Player. Later in his career, while reflecting on that first game, Robinson told reporters, “I was nervous on my first day in my first game at Ebbets Field. But nothing has bothered me since.”
Robinson was well aware of what was at stake with his becoming Major League’s first black player. Just prior to his national debut, during an interview, he stated, “I’m ready to take the chance. Maybe I’m doing something for my race.” While talking with sports writers from the black press, Robinson said, “I will not forget that I am representative of a whole race of people who are pulling for me.”
Jackie played with the Brooklyn Dodgers for ten years, enduring insults and jeers from some and cheers from many, retiring from baseball in 1957, having inspired the nation. All he had wanted was respect as a human being. In 1962, Robinson made history again when he was inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Having changed America’s National Pastime, Robinson, now, embraced the civil rights movement, hoping to advance the cause for justice and racial equality, doing his part, off the field, to make America a more perfect union.
The influence and legacy of Jackie Robinson is still producing “ripple effects,” as he remains a symbol of courage, dignity, and hope today. Some still refer to him as the “most important person in the history of baseball.” Author Ken Burns calls him “one of the great Americans of all time.”
Nearly seven decades after Jackie Robinson opened baseball’s doors for black athletes, much of our American story is still about the struggle for black Americans to win full equality of citizenship in the great Republic. We must continue to be about the business of making change, making things right and improving lives. We can show our own courage and strength as we continue to fight for fairness and equality, for there is still much to do on the American journey for justice.
It mattered to Jackie Robinson, and it should also matter to us.
Larry Sutton is a former teacher at Clinton High School.