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.
What a Sport Wednesday gets a kick today with a visit from Edson Arantes Nacimento, better known as Pelé. He stopped by the Rose Garden on June 28, 1975, to share some pointers on soccer with President Ford.
In a background memo for the meeting Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, himself a soccer fan, noted that Pelé was not only one of the world’s foremost athletes but also the most highly paid at the time. Pelé’s career included several notable distinctions. He started playing for Brazil’s national team at 16, helped his country to achieve three consecutive World Cup victories, and became known for his exceptional playing style and spectacular goals.
Pelé retired from his Brazilian club team Santos in 1974. The following year he signed a two-year contract with the New York Cosmos, a team in the North American Soccer League. For him this career move also served as an opportunity for cultural exchange. His popularity helped to increase awareness and interest in the sport in the United States.
After their meeting President Ford sent Pelé a photo of them together at the White House, inscribed to him “with admiration for one of the ‘all time’ super-stars and with appreciation for your contribution to better understanding between your fine people and mine. Very best wishes.”
Image and text from the Ford Presidential Library Facebook page.
President Nixon bowling at the White House Bowling Alley. 3/10/70.
The White House Bowling Alley first opened in 1947 while Harry S. Truman was in office. In 1955, it was moved across the street to the Old Executive Building.
Richard and Pat Nixon both enjoyed bowling, and so in 1969 they had a one-lane alley built beneath the North Portico using private funds.
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
Superbowl Sunday Presidential Trivia
Did you know that Gerald R. Ford received offers from two professional football teams, the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers?
He chose instead to take a position as boxing coach and assistant varsity football coach at Yale hoping to attend law school there.
In his youth, Jerry earned “All-City” and “All-State” honors at South High School in Grand Rapids before joining the team at the University of Michigan as a center.
Ford won the Meyer Morton Trophy, awarded to the outstanding freshman player in spring practice, in his first year as a Wolverine. He made the varsity squad the next year and in 1934 he got the starting position.
Although he had high hopes for his senior year since the team won the national championship in both 1932 and 1933, injuries hit the offense and the defense struggled. “We lost seven of our eight ball games,” Ford later reflected on his final season at Michigan. “But what really hurt was that my teammates, after the end of the season, voted me the most valuable player. I didn’t know whether to smile or sue.”
(ARC Identifier 186975)
-from the Ford Library
“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.
That’s How He Rolled
Richard Nixon would have been 100 years old on Wednesday, and we’re celebrating his Centennial year throughout 2013.
Remember this photo of President Nixon bowling at the White House Bowling Alley? 3/10/70.
Learn more about the life of the 37th U.S. President - The Centennial of Richard Nixon