One of the reasons is Jackie Robinson, who broke the Major League Baseball color barrier in 1947 when he signed to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Robinson, who was a football star and scholar at UCLA, came to the majors from the Negro Leagues. While Robinson was an outstanding player in the Negro League, he was far from its best player.
However, Dodgers’ general manager Branch Rickey felt that Robinson was the man best suited to handle the spotlight of being the first black to play in the MLB.
Robinson’s historic debut on April 15, 1947, open the door for not only African-Americans in baseball, but in all walks of life, albeit slowly, and with much resistance.
Tonight on PBS be sure to check out Ken Burns’ documentary, ‘Jackie Robinson’, on your local PBS station. Burns is a master story teller, and his take on Robinson is sure to be insightful.
Burns says that Robinson was incredibly courageous, taking the verbal abuse from fans and players. He was also not afraid to fight back.
“The story of Jackie Robinson is the story of America,” Burns said. “ “He was the right man because I don’t think there’s anybody who could have borne as gracefully, and at such great sacrifice and ultimate cost to his life, the burdens that he faced.
“In the early days of his career, even after he was no longer required to turn the other cheek, his stance was considered radical,” Burns says. “People were constantly telling him, even black teammates, ‘Shhh, be quiet, don’t do this.'”
Today, baseball takes a back seat to football, basketball and other interests in the black community. Burns’ film is an opportunity to appreciate how Robinson’s career on the baseball field, and in civil rights, made it possible for these other endeavors to come about.