In the News: Jackie Robinson Integrates Baseball
Sixty years ago this month, future Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play in the major leagues in the 20th century.
Brooklyn Dodgers executive Branch Rickey, determined to integrate baseball, saw in Robinson the man he believed could break the color barrier. Knowing that Robinson would be subjected to taunts and abuse from players and fans alike, Rickey cautioned him: "I want a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back!"
Robinson and Rickey were the two most public figures in the integration battle, but others had worked behind the scenes for some time. For years, sportswriters – black and white – had been calling for integration.
One of them was Sam Lacy, a veteran writer for Baltimore’s Afro–American who was assigned to cover Robinson. In doing so, he suffered the same indignities as Robinson: eating in segregated restaurants, sleeping in segregated hotels. Barred from some press boxes because of his color, Lacy sometimes covered games from the Dodgers dugout.
Lacy stayed focused on the story: "[Robinson] was taking so much abuse that he said to me that he didn’t know whether or not he was going to be able to go through with this because it was just becoming so intolerable." Robinson endured and didn’t fight back. He let his abilities speak for him and was voted 1947 National League Rookie of the Year.
When major league baseball opened its 2007 season this month, nearly 40 percent of the players were minorities. The door that Robinson, Rickey and Lacy pushed ajar in 1947 today is wide open.
Robinson’s and Lacy’s stories will be examined in displays in the Newseum’s News History gallery when the Newseum opens soon. One of Lacy’s final interviews will be featured in the Sports Theater.