On July 6, 1944 Army Lieutenant John Roosevelt Robinson, one of the 761st "Black Panther" Tank Battalion¹s few black officers, refused orders to sit in the back of a military bus at Fort Hood, Texas.
Robinson was subsequently court martialed, but acquitted because the order was a violation of War Department policy prohibiting racial discrimination in recreational and transportation facilities on all U.S. Army posts.
After the war, Jackie Robinson went on to break the "color line" in baseball by being the first black to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Older than the typical rookie when he joined the Dodgers in 1947, Robinson prevailed despite intense pressure and he mainly let his playing do the talking.
The Dodger teams of those years were a powerhouse with Roy Campanella, Carl Furillo, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese, and Duke Snider, just to name a few.
In his 10-year career, Robinson compiled a .311 batting average, played in six World Series, and stole home no less than 19 times. Robinson earned The Sporting News' first Rookie of the Year Award in 1947. He won the National League Most Valuable Player award in 1949, when he led the league with a .342 batting average and 37 stolen bases.
Branch Rickey maintained he hired Jackie Robinson because of his desire to put the best possible team on the field. In those days ticket sales paid for team salaries and expenses, Rickey believed Robinson and other African-American players would improve his team, thus bringing more fans through the turnstiles.
Jackie Robinson with the help of Branch Rickey prepared the way for black players in organized baseball. Along with Robinson, Dan Bankhead, Larry Doby, Henry Thompson, and Willard Brown played in 1947. The last major league team integrated in 1959.
Robinson retired from baseball in 1956. Jackie Robinson was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, his first year of eligibility.
Robinson became a spokesman for civil rights in general. He appeared on shows like Meet the Press and discussed civil rights, the NAACP, that status of blacks in professional sports. Some critics continued to pound on Robinson for talking about the problems in sports and in the country. They lambasted Robinson for being "tart-tongued" and "terrible-tempered."
As with his earlier roles in the military and on the baseball field Robinson remained committed to efforts to help African Americans achieve full citizenship.
Over the years Robinson worked in many arenas from staging Jazz concerts to benefit the SCLC and support voter registration in the South to starting his own construction company to build low and moderate income housing for people, Robinson worked tirelessly.
The strain took its toll on Robinson. He suffered a heart attack and died on October 24, 1972 while at his home in Connecticut.
Without Robinson and all those who persevered during that period, fans would probably have never gotten the chance to see Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, or Barry Bonds make their marks on the game of baseball. The young officer who wouldn't move to the back of the bus shaped the game that fans love today.