Each year as spring ushers in a new season of Major League Baseball, fans can count on two things: the pomp and pageantry of opening day and, since 2004, the commemoration of Jackie Robinson Day that follows soon after. Robinson, who debuted as a major league player April 15, 1947, was the first African-American to break the sport’s racial barrier.
As a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Robinson helped carry the team to six championship pennants and a World Series title in 1955, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum says. His career paved the way for other African-Americans in the sport, who in the decade that followed Robinson’s debut would win nine MVP awards, nine Rookie of the Year awards, five home run titles, four league batting crowns and a Cy Young Award for pitching.
Until his death in 1972, Robinson was an outspoken civil rights activist. He advocated for racial diversity after years of encouraging civil rights progress in the Jim Crow South, where he was born (Cairo, Georgia). Below, read several quotations attributed to Robinson or culled from his autobiography.
“Baseball was just a part of my life. Thank God that I didn't allow a sport or a business or any part of my life to dominate me completely. ... I felt that I had my time in athletics and that was it.”
"But if Mr. [Branch] Rickey hadn't signed me, I wouldn't have played another year in the black league. It was too difficult. The travel was brutal. Financially, there was no reward. It took everything you make to live off."
"Baseball is like a poker game. Nobody wants to quit when he's losing; nobody wants you to quit when you're ahead."
"It kills me to lose. If I'm a troublemaker, and I don't think that my temper makes me one, then it's because I can't stand losing. That's the way I am about winning, all I ever wanted to do was finish first."
On Breaking Major League Baseball’s Color Barrier:
“Life is not a spectator sport. ... If you're going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you're wasting your life.”
“I won't 'have it made' until the most underprivileged Negro in Mississippi can live in equal dignity with anyone else in America.”
“Negroes aren't seeking anything which is not good for the nation as well as ourselves. In order for America to be 100 percent strong -- economically, defensively and morally -- we cannot afford the waste of having second- and third-class citizens.”
On Civil Rights In The U.S.:
“The right of every American to first-class citizenship is the most important issue of our time.”
“I don't think that I or any other Negro, as an American citizen, should have to ask for anything that is rightfully his. We are demanding that we just be given the things that are rightfully ours and that we're not looking for anything else.”
“Civil rights is not by any means the only issue that concerns me -- nor, I think, any other Negro. As Americans, we have as much at stake in this country as anyone else. But since effective participation in a democracy is based upon enjoyment of basic freedoms that everyone else takes for granted, we need make no apologies for being especially interested in catching up on civil rights.”
“It is up to us in the North to provide aid and support to those who are actually bearing the brunt of the fight for equality down South. America has its iron curtain, too.”
“I believe in the goodness of a free society. And I believe that society can remain good only as long as we are willing to fight for it -- and to fight against whatever imperfections may exist.”