American Portraits

Number 42: Jackie Robinson and Courage

In this lesson, students will consider the courage of Jackie Robinson, who persevered through the integration of major league baseball. They will learn how they can courageously fight for equality in their own lives.

Founding Principles

Equality image

Equality

Every individual is equal to every other person in regards to natural rights and treatment before the law.

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

Private Virtue image

Private Virtue

The idea that only a knowledgeable and virtuous citizenry can sustain liberty.

Narrative

On August 28, 1945, the African-American baseball player Jackie Robinson walked into a dark office in Brooklyn, New York that featured a portrait of Abraham Lincoln on the wall. It was the most important meeting of his life. Behind a large mahogany desk sat the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Rickey. He wore a jacket and bow tie, and, after welcoming Robinson, sat impassively smoking a cigar while assessing him. Rickey offered Robinson a “chance with the Brooklyn Dodgers” after a stint with the club’s minor league team. Robinson was “thrilled, scared, and excited” all at once. He was incredulous and speechless for a few quiet minutes as he processed the opportunity. When Rickey asked him if he could do it, Robinson finally replied, “Yes.” Robinson may have been surprised by Rickey’s next words. “I know you’re a good ball player. What I don’t know is whether you have the guts.”…

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How can your courageous actions help to advance freedom in your life and the lives of others?

Virtue Defined

Courage is the capacity to overcome fear in order to do good.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will consider the courage of Jackie Robinson, who persevered through the integration of major league baseball. They will learn how they can courageously fight for equality in their own lives.

Objectives

  • Students will evaluate Jackie Robinson’s courage during the integration of major league baseball.
  • Students will analyze how courageous acts can promote equality.
  • Students will apply their knowledge of courage to their own lives.

Background

Jackie Robinson grew up in Pasadena, California in the 1920s and 1930s. He was a star athlete in high school and excelled in baseball, track, basketball, and football. He continued to play those sports at Pasadena Junior College and then UCLA.

During World War II, Jackie Robinson served in the segregated U.S. Army. After being court-martialed for refusing to obey segregation procedures and found not guilty, Robinson left the army. In 1945, he joined the Kansas City Monarchs baseball team in the Negro Leagues for spring training and the regular season. In April, he and two other black players were invited to try out for the Boston Red Sox but never heard back from the club.

In 1945, Dodgers owner Branch Rickey sent out scouts to find black players who could break Major League Baseball’s unofficial color barrier against African Americans. He sought to bring equality to baseball, win the World Series pennant with the best talent, and make more money selling tickets to games. As a result, he signed Jackie Robinson to play for the Dodgers and would soon sign two other black players: Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe. Within three years, seven black players were playing in the major leagues, and nineteen played in the minor leagues, hoping one day to play in the majors.

Jackie Robinson needed incredible amounts of courage to withstand the racial taunts, being thrown at by pitchers, or hit in the legs with spikes by baserunners without fighting back. He endured and succeeded brilliantly, winning countless awards, making the Hall of Fame, having the number 42 retired forever from all of baseball, and helping to integrate baseball and other major sports. Breaking the color barrier had important larger implications for equality throughout society and starting the Civil Rights Movement.

Vocabulary

  • Segregated
  • Court-martialed
  • Scouts
  • Endured
  • Integrate
  • Color barrier
  • Mahogany
  • Impassively
  • Incredulous
  • Inevitable
  • Scenarios
  • Hurling
  • Indignities
  • Humiliations
  • Venture
  • Martyrdom
  • Muster
  • Torrent
  • Triumphantly
  • Adversity

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

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Questions

Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • How was Robinson’s identity different from other major league baseball players?
  • What was Robinson’s purpose in playing major league baseball as an African American? Why would Robinson subject himself to discrimination as the first African American major league player?
  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

  • Rampersad, Arnold. Jackie Robinson: A Biography. New York: Ballantine, 1997.
  • Vecsey, George. Baseball: A History of America’s Favorite Game. New York: Modern Library, 2006.
  • 42. Warner Brothers, 2013.
  • “Jackie Robinson: The Official Website.” http://www.jackierobinson.com/

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