Branch Rickey & The Color Barrier

Branch Rickey (1881–1965) was a professional baseball player from 1905 to 1907. He was not very successful as a baseball player, and after his playing days he assumed baseball executive and managerial positions with the St. Louis Browns (now the Baltimore Orioles), St. Louis Cardinals, Brooklyn Dodgers, and Pittsburgh Pirates.

 

He is credited for creating the “farm system” in baseball that developed young players and prepared them for the major leagues. He helped the St. Louis Cardinals win several World Series.

Branch Rickey, St. Louis AL circa 1909.

According to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, despite his successes with the St. Louis Cardinals, 

… it was Rickey’s steadfast opposition to baseball’s color barrier that would forever identify him as one of the game’s great pioneers.

 

He signed Negro league star Jackie Robinson to a minor league contract in 1945, and paved the way for Robinson’s major league debut on April 15, 1947.

 

Anticipating the harsh treatment that Robinson would receive from fans and opposing players, Rickey told Robinson he was looking for a man who “had guts enough not to fight back.”

Robinson followed Rickey’s advice with remarkable restraint. Amidst racial slurs, objects thrown at him from the crowd and even death threats, Robinson quietly exceled on the diamond and went on to win National League Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player Awards during his career.

“I realized how much our relationship had deepened after I left baseball,” Robinson later said of Rickey. “Branch, especially after I was no longer in the sports spotlight, treated me like a son.”  [1]

Branch Rickey, St. Louis AL, 1913.  Published by Bain News Service.


Jackie Robinson starred with the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1947 and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, and Rickey was elected posthumously to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1967.

 

Today, Robinson’s 1947 debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers remains a defining moment not only in terms of breaking baseball’s color barrier but also as a pivotal point in the history of the U.S. civil rights movement.

Jackie Robinson, Brooklyn Dodgers, posed and ready to swing, 1954. Photo by Bob Sandberg.

Front cover of Jackie Robinson comic book, Fawcett Publications, 1951.

Task

Prepare a 4–5-minute presentation that includes a summary of Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson’s accomplishments, specific types of civic engagement mentioned in the handout, and the impact of the breaking of the color barrier in Major League Baseball on democracy in the United States.

 

Also, share your thoughts on whether you think Branch Rickey and/or two other civically engaged Americans of your choosing should be included in all U.S. high school history textbooks. 

Vocabulary

  • color barrier—also known as the color line in U.S. baseball, which excluded African-American players from Major League Baseball and its affiliated minor leagues until 1947

References

 [1]  “Branch Rickey,” National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, https://baseballhall.org/hall-of-famers/rickey-branch [26 June 2018]

 

Steven Marcus, “Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey: Together in History,” Newsday, 25 February 2017, https://www.newsday.com/sports/baseball/jackie-robinson-and-branch-rickey-together-in-history-1.13174735 [26 June 2018]. 

Next Up:

RECAP: CIVICALLY ENGAGED AMERICANS

DAY 2, ACTIVITY 1

Lead a discussion based on what students have learned through their assignment on civically engaged Americans.

CIVICALLY ENGAGED STUDENTS

DAY 2, ACTIVITY 2

Students hear from students about how they have become civically active.

WHY I CARE: A STUDENT ACTIVIST’S PERSPECTIVE

DAY 2, ACTIVITY 3

Students watch a short profile of student activist Michelle Hua.

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