Jackie Robinson broke the color line in Major League Baseball when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. This decision would not only integrate baseball, but would help the country work to achieve equal rights for all. Civil Rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., once commented to baseball pitcher Don Newcombe, “Don, you and Jackie will never know how easy you made my job, through what you went through on the baseball field.”
Before becoming famous, Lt. Jack R. Robinson was court-martialed at Camp Hood, Texas, because he refused to move to the back of the bus after being told to do so by a bus driver and disobeying an order from a superior officer. Robinson was acquitted of all charges and received an honorable discharge, but this was not the only experience he would have in fighting discrimination.
After retiring from baseball, Robinson turned much of his attention to civil rights issues. He wrote to several Presidents about the cause, and even attended the March on Washington.
Many of these milestone events from Robinson’s life are documented in primary sources from the National Archives.
Get ready for Major League Baseball’s 2013 Opening Day with a new, free eBook from the National Archives!
“Baseball: The National Pastime in the National Archives” tells the story of baseball in America through documents, photographs, audio, video, and other records preserved at the National Archives.
The book can be downloaded for free on your iPhone, Android, iPad, and eReaders.
Learn about the two world wars, contract disputes, civil rights, equal access and opportunity on and off the playing field, the steroids era, Presidential involvement, improvements to the sport, Little League, Opening Day, and more.
(Today’s Document may be quiet the rest of the afternoon as we’re off to see the Nationals take on that expansion team from the Bronx. Go Nats!)
Happy birthday Hank Aaron!
Generally considered one of the greatest baseball players of all time, Hank Aaron here meets with President Jimmy Carter in the Oval Office, four years after breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1974.
Photo: Jimmy Carter with Hank Aaron, 08/15/1978
“We sincerely appreciate the many true Americans who insist on equal rights for all.”
Telegram to the White House, August 13, 1957
Jack Roosevelt Robinson (1919-72) was the first black man to “officially” play in the big leagues in the 20th century. In the course of a distinguished 10-year career beginning in 1947, Robinson led the Brooklyn Dodgers to six National League titles and one victorious World Series.
Beyond his many and baseball feats, Jackie Robinson went on to champion the cause of civil rights when he retired from the game. Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson all received candid correspondence from Robinson on the need to act for civil rights.
Our holdings at the Presidential Libraries and National Archives include numerous records relating to Jackie Robinson. You can see a number of the telegrams and letters Robinson sent to the White House here.
Image: Telegram to the White House from Jackie Robinson regarding the 1957 Civil Rights Act from the Eisenhower Library.
January 31, 1919 - October 24, 1972
Babe Ruth and George Bush
On January 29, 1936, the Baseball Hall of Fame elected its first members. Among the five men was Babe Ruth, seen in this photograph taken in 1948, donating the manuscript of his autobiography to Yale.
The young man in uniform is the captain of the Yale baseball team and a future President. George H. W. Bush was an older college student—he had delayed going to college and joined the Navy after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Baseball in Washington DC, 1933
We admit it—here in Washington, DC, we are pretty excited about the Washington Nationals game this afternoon! The last time we won the American League pennant was in 1933 when the team was the Washington Senators and Franklin D. Roosevelt was in the White House.
In honor of the first DC home game in this Major League Baseball playoff series, here’s a photograph of FDR throwing the ceremonial first pitch for Game 3 of the World Series, when the New York Giants played the Senators. Washington, DC, 10/5/33.
And for any fans who may have called in “sick” today, you’re in good company — When FDR was a young attorney in New York City, he almost lost his job because he would sneak off to Giants games.
Thanks to Sarah, archivist magician at the FDR Library for finding this photo!
More - When FDR Said “Play Ball”
President John F. Kennedy attends the 32nd All-Star Baseball Game, throws out first ball.
Speaker of the House John W. McCormack, Dave Powers, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, President Kennedy, Commissioner of Baseball Ford. Washington, D.C., D.C. Stadium, 07/10/1962.
-from the JFK Library
Letter from Jackie Robinson to President Eisenhower
Jack Roosevelt Robinson (1919-72) was the first African American to “officially” play in Major League Baseball. When he retired from the game, Jackie Robinson went on to champion the cause of civil rights from his position as a prominent executive of the Chock Full o’Nuts Corporation.
Robinson had grown increasingly impatient with what he regarded as President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s failure to act decisively in combating racism. In this letter, he expresses his frustration and calls upon the President to finally guarantee Federal support of black civil rights. Read more