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The Loneliest Man Essay, Research Paper

When you?re in the military, you?re presented a salute upon which respect and dignity imply. Unfortunately, this wasn?t always the case. All of that was hastily forgotten. He ?barely missed a court-martial? and was honorably discharged shortly thereafter (Davis 1). Would you believe that it was because he refused to move from a front seat to the rear seat of an army bus? He was a legitimate soldier in the U.S. Army. He enlisted after the Pearl Harbor bombing and was promoted to Lieutenant three years later. However, unlike protester Rosa Parks, being instructed by a higher-ranking (and white) officer meant a direct order, so he moved to the back. Some thanks to a man anxious to help fight for the preservation of his country. That man was Jackie Robinson.

The youngest of five children, Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born in Georgia on January 31, 1919. At the age of 18 months, his sharecropper father left the family, distraught from the reality of his sixth child which he claimed he couldn?t afford. His mother, Mallie, on the verge of insanity, moved the family to Pasadena, California to live with her brother and found work as a domestic housekeeper. While growing up with a psychologically abusive uncle, Jackie rarely saw his mother in order to develop a parental bond with her. He grew up by himself, and therefore experienced a miserable childhood.

Jackie attended a local vocational school for an academic education, as well as to learn a trade that could be financially useful to his mother and the family. It was her wish that Jackie attend Pasadena?s Muir Technical High and Jackie quickly found something out about himself. He enjoyed gym class so much he was determined to try out for the sports teams, all of them. Throughout his high school career at Muir, Jackie excelled in four sports: football, basketball, baseball, and track. He even set two school records in track, which earned him a free ride to Pasadena Junior

College.

Mallie was thrilled at Jackie?s accomplishments and attended every meet he was in, including the meet where Jackie set a National Junior College record in the long jump of 25? 6 1/2? and received an athletic scholarship to UCLA. There, he became the first athlete to earn varsity letters in four sports. Unfortunately, Jackie left UCLA in the spring of 1941, at his mother?s request, to help support the family. Six months later, Pearl Harbor was bombed and Jackie enlisted in the U.S. Army.

It wasn?t until the spring of 1945 when Jackie sought out his real dream of playing professional baseball. He joined the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League, a league formed in response to segregation. He spent his entire rookie season touring with the Monarchs on a salary of $400 a month. In mid-August, Jackie?s life was about to be changed forever.

Branch Rickey, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, had been scouring the country for months looking for a black ballplayer he felt could best withstand the pressure of being the first black man in the Major Leagues. He wanted an interview with Jackie.

Jackie crossed the mighty threshold into white professional baseball at that meeting, signing a minor league contract with the Dodgers? farm club, the Montreal Royals. The following season, Jackie Robinson was promoted to the Brooklyn Dodgers. He entered the history books on April 15 as the Dodger?s opened the 1947 season with the Boston Braves at Ebbets Field.

However, Robinson?s track to success was filled with obstacles. His first manager in the minor leagues, a Southerner named Clay Hopper, often wondered aloud whether ?niggers were really humans and not monkeys? (Scott 162). Hall of Famer, and former Yankee, Enos Slaughter allegedly hated blacks so much that while running the bases, he lunged at Jackie, spikes first, causing a seven-inch gash in his leg. Jackie received letters from people who threatened to kill him if he dared to step foot on the field with white players in the National League?s southernmost cities, St. Louis and Cincinnati. There was even a sit-in at a South Carolina airport in retaliation to the forbidding of Jackie to sit with his teammates in an all-white section.

?Thinking about the things that happened, I don?t know any other ballplayer

who could have done what he did. To be able to hit with everybody yelling at him.

He had to block all that out, block out everything but this ball that is coming in at a

hundred miles an hour . . . To do what he did has got to be the most tremendous thing I?d ever seen in sports? (Adler 37), said teammate Pee Wee Reese after Jackie was awarded the ?Rookie of the Year? with a .296 batting average. Jackie was an immediate success in baseball and showed the world that it wasn?t just about baseball, it was a test of one?s humanity. ?I?m not concerned with your liking or disliking me. All I ask is that you respect me as a human being? (Adler 12).

In 1952, Jackie had the season of his life. He won the batting title with an outstanding .346 average, he was selected to start the All Star Game, he was voted the League?s ?Most Valuable Player?, and led the Dodger?s to the World Series. ?After the game, Robinson came into our clubhouse and shook my hand,? said Mickey Mantle, after the World Series. ?He said, ?You?re a helluva ballplayer and you?ve got a great future.? I thought that was a classy gesture, one I wasn?t then capable of making. I was a bad loser. What meant even more was what Jackie told the press: ?Mantle beat us. He was the difference between the two teams. They didn?t miss Dimaggio, it was all Mantle.? I have to admit, I became a Jackie Robinson fan on the spot. And when I think of that World Series, his gesture is what comes to mind. Here was a player who had without a doubt suffered more abuse and more taunts and more hatred than any player in the history of the game. And he had made a special effort to compliment and encourage a young white kid from Oklahoma? (Denenberg 108).

Yet Jackie Robinson?s significance transcends even the athletic world, leaving behind memories of something greater. He was undoubtedly an unforgettable baseball player, even today. He etched a place for himself in the American consciousness as an athlete and a winner. Yet he should be remembered perhaps more for his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement.

Jackie Robinson was a man who gallantly marched through the very epitome of racism. He held his head high and continued on. In the hearts of millions of blacks, and even whites, he was a saint. His prominence inspired him to dedicate his life to improving African Americans? status in society, and his athletic prosperity paved the way for the civil rights activity by establishing considerable credibility. A

case in point would be Jackie?s blatant refusal to accept segregation that led to the

integration of the many white-only hotels and restaurants that the Dodger team

frequently attended.

Jackie soon became a serious political player. His first serious encounter with politics came in July of 1949. Paul Robeson, a prominent black mentor, made a controversial statement in a speech in Paris. Robeson, alongside Robinson, stated (something to the effect) that, ?it would be unthinkable for black Americans to fight in a war against Russia because blacks were treated better in Russia than they were in the United States? (Scott 227). In retaliation, the House Un-American Activities Committee assembled hearings in which they subpoenaed other prominent African Americans to testify about Robeson?s statement. The first one they called was Jackie Robinson. Not eager to testify, but knowing full well that refusing to cooperate with the HUAC might result in the termination of his athletic career, Jackie, with encouragement by the Dodger organization, agreed to testify.

In his testimony, Jackie halfheartedly opposed the statement made by Robeson in Paris. He said that Robeson?s comments, if quoted accurately, were ?ridiculous.? However, Jackie spent the majority of his testimony condemning racism in America. The next witness followed Jackie?s example, refusing to denounce Robeson. The hearings adjourned without further HUAC actions.

This particular circumstance damaged his reputation and further encouraged hatred toward him in his playing days. Jackie never regretted his testimony. Twenty years later in his autobiography, I Never Had It Made, he admitted that he had grown ?wiser and closer to the painful truths about America?s destructiveness.?

He wrote that he always respected Robeson, who ?sacrificed himself, his career, and the wealth and comfort he once enjoyed . . . I believe he was sincerely trying to help his people? (Denenberg 171).

It was quite often that Jackie was characterized as a conservative Republican,

in regard to political affiliation. On the contrary. ?I guess you?d call me an independent, since I?ve never identified myself with one party or another in politics,? Robinson said. ?I always decide my vote by taking as careful a look as I can at the actual candidates and issues themselves, no matter what the party label happens to be? (Scott 173). He believed that it was important that blacks have

representation in both political parties to ensure that their support would not be

taken for granted.

Jackie, after his retirement from baseball, became a businessman and a radical

civil rights participant. In 1954, he founded and operated the first black-owned bank in New York City and became active in the NAACP. He became one of the

organization?s main speakers at fund raisers and gatherings. He served as chairman of the Freedom Fund Drive, helping them raise $1 million for Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Jackie was even awarded the NAACP?s Spingarn Medal in 1956 for his meritorious service to the black community.

In 1957, Jackie became upset with President Eisenhower and his reluctance to enforce the civil rights laws, especially the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision mandating integration. He wrote countless petitions and letters encouraging Eisenhower?s persistence.

In 1960, Jackie supported Senator Hubert Humphrey?s bid for the Democratic nomination. He was disappointed when Humphrey lost the nomination to Kennedy, but assured both Kennedy and Nixon that his support was up for grabs. He met with both candidates and was disappointed when Kennedy told him that, being from Massachusetts, he didn?t know much about the problems and grievances of blacks. Therefore, by default, he threw his support to Nixon and even campaigned for him in the general election.

In 1964, New York aristocrat and Republican candidate Nelson Rockefeller named Jackie one of his six national campaign directors. Unfortunately Rockefeller lost the nomination to Barry Goldwater, whom Jackie immensely disliked. In 1968, Jackie again accepted the opportunity to campaign for Humphrey, whom he had supported in 1960.

However, given countless opportunities, Jackie never pursued a leadership role in either politics nor the church. He offered assistance, suggestions, endorsements, and even guidance to such leaders as Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesse Jackson. In 1962, Jackie traveled with Martin Luther King to Birmingham, where Sheriff Bull Conner was inflicting hostile intimidation to harass blacks. They both spoke at church meetings and other protest rallies. A year later, Jackie urged

Kennedy to provide King with Secret Service protection at his March On

Washington speech. This was encouraged after the appalling murder of Mississippi

NAACP official Medger Evers.

By the late 60?s, Jackie had become more and more frustrated with the

NAACP and he resigned from the organization?s board of directors. He felt that the black establishment running the association ?was not radical enough and failed to attend to the efforts of the younger progressives? (Scott 301). The association had become too absorbed in the bureaucratic structure and pursued a specialty in the courts. He believed that it had lost its charismatic ability to organize community affairs and alienated the physical attributes it once had. Dozens of southern movements and organizations were forming rapidly and Jackie felt that they were replacing the NAACP?s faded role in direct action.

Jackie?s political aspirations grew increasingly pessimistic as he aged, and, by the last year of his life, it seemed like he lost all hope. By then, he had grieved over the assassinations of John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcom X, Medger Evers; and more importantly, Branch Rickey, his mother Mallie, and his son Jackie Junior. In a memorandum written to a Nixon aide, Jackie had predicted a violent revolution if immediate action on civil rights was not taken. Of course, Nixon had no intention of acting on this. It is assumed, consequently, that Jackie was severely depressed about his life story. On October 24, 1972, in his New York townhome, Jackie Robinson died . . . the loneliest man.

Jackie Robinson?s legacy is the inspiration he gives to athletes, and for that matter, people of all colors. His pathbreaking entrance into the major leagues stands as a brilliant symbol of America?s struggle with racism and the hope for racial equality. His involvement in the fight for civil rights was an even greater demonstration of his perseverence. We, the people of America, must face the struggle for racial harmony at its innermost evils, and follow the lead of such influential advocates, like Jackie. We were joined by a force that made us one. That force shone through the life of Jackie Robinson (Herzog 8).

Books

Adler, David A. Jackie Robinson: He Was the First.

New York: Holiday House, 1989.

Denenberg, Barry. Stealing Home: The Story of Jackie Robinson.

New York: Scholastic Books, 1990.

Morris, Aldon D. The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement.

New York: The Free Press, 1984. p191.

Scott, Richard. Jackie Robinson.

New York: The Chelsea House, 1987.

Articles

Davis, Hal. ?The Court-Martial of Lt. Jackie Robinson.?

The National Law Journal, Vol 17 No. 3. Sept. 19, 1994. pA12

Herzog, Brad. ?A Home Run For the Ages.?

Sports Illustrated, Vol 84 No. 13. April 1, 1996. p1+.


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