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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 (now Los Angeles 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, ca. 1909.

Identifier: LC-DIG-npcc-19279. Source: Library of Congress

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.¹

While Jackie Robinson played for the Negro Leagues in the mid-1940s, Rickey, then club president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, signed Robinson to a minor league contract with the Montreal Royals in 1945. “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.’²

On April 15, 1947, Robinson became the first African American player in major league baseball. Robinson had to endure racial epithets and racist treatment, including death threats. Yet, he went on to win National League Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player Awards during his storied career.

In the article, “Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey: Together in History,” Steven Marcus of Newsday notes “Rickey was on a mission to end the ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ that kept black players out of baseball. ‘This is a plot, this is a plan,’ his grandson said. ‘He recognized who the enemy was. The enemy was us. It was our own biases.’”³

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

Branch Rickey, St. Louis AL, 1913.

Photo by Bane News Service. Identifier: LC-DIG-ggbain-14665. Source: Library of Congress

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, poised and ready to swing, 1954.

Photo by Bob Sandburg. Identifier: LC-DIG-ppmsc-00048. Source: Library of Congress

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

Identifier: LC-USZC4-6144. Source: Library of Congress


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. 

  • 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


Next Up:




Discuss what you've learned through your assignment on civically engaged Americans.




Hear from students about how they have become civically active.




Watch a short profile of student activist Michelle Hua.


  1. “Branch Rickey,” National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, [31 July 2020].

  2. “Branch Rickey.”

  3. Steven Marcus, “Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey: Together in History,” Newsday, 25 February 2017, [31 July 2020].

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