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Born January 31, 1919, in Cairo, Georgia, Jackie Robinson was the first African-American to play major league baseball. Throughout his decade-long career with the Brooklyn Dodgers, he made advancements in the cause of civil rights for black athletes. In 1955, he helped the Dodgers win the World Series. He retired in 1957, with a career batting average of .311.
“There’s not an American in this country free until every one of us is free.”
Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born on January 31, 1919, in Cairo, Georgia. Breaking the color barrier, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to play in baseball’s major leagues. The youngest of five children, Robinson was raised in relative poverty by a single mother. He attended John Muir High School and Pasadena Junior College, where he was an excellent athlete and played four sports: football, basketball, track, and baseball. He was named the region’s Most Valuable Player in baseball in 1938.
Robinson’s older brother, Matthew Robinson, inspired Jackie to pursue his talent and love for athletics. Matthew won a silver medal in the 200-meter dash—just behind Jesse Owens—at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.
Jackie continued his education at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he became the university’s first student to win varsity letters in four sports. In 1941, despite his athletic success, Robinson was forced to leave UCLA just shy of graduation due to financial hardship. He moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, where he played football for the semi-professional Honolulu Bears. His season with the Bears was cut short when the United States entered into World War II.
From 1942 to 1944, Robinson served as a second lieutenant in the United States Army. He never saw combat, however; Robinson was arrested and court-martialed during boot camp after he refused to move to the back of a segregated bus during training. He was later acquitted of the charges and received an honorable discharge. His courage and moral objection to segregation were precursors to the impact Robinson would have in major league baseball.