Jackie Robinson was the first African-American to play in major league baseball on April 15, 1947. He went 0 for 3. He reached base once, scoring a run in a Brooklyn Dodgers victory. As a statistical line it was not the most auspicious of debuts. That Robinson debuted at all was the greatest accomplishment of the day.
In 1947, The United States was still legally segregated throughout the south and tradition and custom segregated much of the rest of the country. The armed forces were still segregated by race and the national pastime, baseball, was as well. The idea that any of these laws, customs or institutions would change was almost impossible to fathom. Yet, Jackie Robinson would not only integrate baseball that spring, but by the fall of 1947 he would play in the World Series and was named the Rookie of the Year for the season. As great as Robinson’s first season was, his debut was years in the making and would have ramifications well beyond 1947.
Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born in 1919 in Cairo, Georgia. He was the son of a sharecropper and grandson of a slave. The status of African-Americans in the south hadn’t changed a great deal since slavery. There was freedom, but the right to vote was almost completely denied to to African-Americans. The court case that made “separate but equal” the law of the land was decided almost twenty-five years prior and was firmly entrenched in the state of Georgia.