This Day in History: January 31st

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From humble beginnings to a Major League Baseball legend, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in the sport and left a lasting legacy in American history. Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born on January 31, 2019, in Cairo, Georgia.

Robinson grew up in a home with five children, and he excelled at sports from an early age. He attended the University of California, Los Angeles and became the first athlete to receive varsity letters in four sports: baseball, basketball, football and track. However, he later had to stop attending due to financial reasons and enlisted in the U.S. Army. He progressed to second lieutenant. 

After ending his Army career due to his objectification to racial discrimination, Robinson transitioned into a new profession. In 1945, he played one season in the Negro Baseball League and traveled all over the Midwest with the Kansas City Monarchs. The Brooklyn Dodgers President Branch Rickey approached Robinson about playing for the team in 1947. Prior to him, the major leagues did not have an African-American player since 1889 — which is when baseball initially became integrated.

By the end of his rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Robinson worked his way to National League Rookie of the Year with 12 homers, 29 steals, and a .297 average. He was also selected as the league’s Most Valuable Player in 1949. 

Throughout his career, Robinson relied on his family to get him through the difficulties of breaking color barriers in Major League Baseball. He met nurse-in-training Rachel Isum while they were both attending UCLA and the couple married on February 10, 1946. 

In 1950, Robinson made his debut on the big screen and played himself in a movie on his life called “The Jackie Robinson Story.” In December of 1956, he was traded to the New York Giants but never actually played a game for the team because he retired on January 5, 1957. As a result of his great success as a player, Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. 

Robinson was a vocal advocate for African American athletes and continued to do so until his later years. He was an advocate for civil rights, social and political causes. He also served on the board of the NAACP until 1967. 

Jackie Robinson died on October 24, 1972, in Stamford, Connecticut. Following his death, Mrs. Robinson established the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which was dedicated to honoring his life and work. In 2013, “42,” starring Chadwick Boseman playing Robison, was released. 

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