Today, April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color line with the Brooklyn Dodgers in perhaps the most significant moment in sports in the 20th century.
As we celebrate what Jackie did and remember his accomplishment, it is important to note the hard road he had before he arrived in Brooklyn — like the road through Baltimore in 1946.
When the news that the Dodgers had signed Jackie, it wasn’t well-received in Baltimore, particularly by the minor league Orioles club. Herb Armstrong, the Orioles business manager, came out in favor of a law to prohibit the signing of black players.
When Jackie began the 1946 season with the Dodgers farm club, the Montreal Royals, their last exhibition game before the start of the season was scheduled for Baltimore. International League President Frank Shaughnessy called Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey begging him not to bring Jackie to Baltimore, predicting “rioting and bloodshed. For God’s sake, Branch, don’t let that colored boy go to Baltimore. There’s a lot of trouble brewing down there…the people are up in arms in Baltimore.”
Jackie played in the game on a Saturday night in Baltimore. There were calls for a boycott, and only 3,000 showed up. Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s wife, was there, sitting behind the Royals dugout, and she heard this: “Here comes that nigger son of a bitch. Let’s give it to him now.” Rachel later said it was the worst abuse she had ever heard, and she feared for Jackie’s safety. Rachel Robinson cried that night in her hotel room, wondering if Jackie should abandon his quest to be the first black player to break the color line.
On another trip to Baltimore, during a regular season game, a fight broke out between teams on the field on the final play of the game. Though Jackie was in the clubhouse, Orioles fans were determined to get him, and they surrounded the exits from the clubhouse. One of his teammates, Johnny “Spider” Jorgenson, said the fans were yelling, “Come out here Robinson, you son of a bitch. We know you’re up there. We’re going to get you,” according to Jules Tygiel’s book, “Jackie Robinson And His Legacy.”
Jackie heard the same kind of abuse when the Royals came back to Baltimore in August of that season. Orioles manager Tommy Thomas yelled to the Royals players, “You let him in and they’ll all be coming now. You’ll all be out of a job.” Legendary Afro-American sportswriter Sam Lacy said the stands were filled with people “who came for the sole purpose of booing him.”
Today, we cheer him and everything he represents.