Jackie Robinson

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Jackie Robinson : biography

31 January 1919 – 24 October 1972

An incident at PJC illustrated Robinson’s impatience with authority figures he perceived as racist—a character trait that would resurface repeatedly in his life. On January 25, 1938, he was arrested after vocally disputing the detention of a black friend by police.Linge, p. 18. Robinson received a two-year suspended sentence, but the incident—along with other rumored run-ins between Robinson and police—gave Robinson a reputation for combativeness in the face of racial antagonism.Rampersad, pp. 50–51. Toward the end of his PJC tenure, Frank Robinson (to whom Robinson felt closest among his three brothers) was killed in a motorcycle accident. The event motivated Jackie to pursue his athletic career at the nearby University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he could remain closer to Frank’s family.Falkner, p. 51.

UCLA and afterward

After graduating from PJC in spring 1939,Falkner, p. 49. Robinson transferred to UCLA, where he became the school’s first athlete to win varsity letters in four sports: baseball, basketball, football, and track.Eig, p. 11. He was one of four black players on the 1939 UCLA Bruins football team; the others were Woody Strode, Kenny Washington, and Ray Bartlett. Washington, Strode, and Robinson made up three of the team’s four backfield players. At a time when only a handful of black players existed in mainstream college football, this made UCLA college football’s most integrated team. In track and field, Robinson won the 1940 NCAA Men’s Outdoor Track and Field Championship in the Long Jump, jumping . Belying his future career, baseball was Robinson’s "worst sport" at UCLA; he hit .097 in his only season, although in his first game he went 4-for-4 and twice stole home.

While a senior at UCLA, Robinson met his future wife, Rachel Isum, a UCLA freshman who was familiar with Robinson’s athletic career at PJC.Robinson, Jackie, pp. 10–11. In the spring semester of 1941, despite his mother’s and Isum’s reservations, Robinson left college just shy of graduation.Sources point to various reasons for Robinson’s departure from UCLA. Family sources cite financial concerns. In addition, Robinson himself cited his growing disillusionment about the value of a college degree for a black man of his era. Robinson, Jackie, p. 11. Other sources suggest that Robinson was uninterested in academics, and behind on class work at the time he left UCLA. Falkner, p. 45; Eig, p. 13. He took a job as an assistant athletic director with the government’s National Youth Administration (NYA) in Atascadero, California.Linge, p. xiii.Robinson, Jackie, p. 12.

After the government ceased NYA operations, Robinson traveled to Honolulu in fall 1941 to play football for the semi-professional, racially integrated Honolulu Bears. After a short season, Robinson returned to California in December 1941 to pursue a career as running back for the Los Angeles Bulldogs of the Pacific Coast Football League. By that time, however, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had taken place, drawing the United States into World War II and ending Robinson’s nascent football career.

Family life and death

After Robinson’s retirement from baseball, his wife, Rachel Robinson, pursued a career in academic nursing—she became an assistant professor at the Yale School of Nursing and director of nursing at the Connecticut Mental Health Center. She also served on the board of the Freedom National Bank until it closed in 1990.Robinson, Rachel, p. 192. She and Jackie had three children: Jackie Robinson Jr. (born November 18, 1946), Sharon Robinson (born January 13, 1950), and David Robinson (born May 14, 1952).

Robinson’s eldest son, Jackie Robinson Jr., had emotional trouble during his childhood and entered special education at an early age.Robinson, Rachel, p. 194. He enrolled in the Army in search of a disciplined environment, served in the Vietnam War, and was wounded in action on November 19, 1965.Robinson, Rachel, p. 200. After his discharge, he struggled with drug problems. Robinson Jr. eventually completed the treatment program at Daytop Village in Seymour, Connecticut, and became a counselor at the institution.Robinson, Rachel, p. 201. On June 17, 1971, at the age of 24, he was killed in an automobile accident.Robinson, Rachel, p. 202. The experience with his son’s drug addiction turned Robinson, Sr. into an avid anti-drug crusader toward the end of his life.Rampersad, pp. 438, 443.