Jackie Robinson Day – More Than Just The Colour Barrier

Kadir Nelson's "Safe At Home" painting featuring Jackie Robinson hangs proudly inside the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

Kadir Nelson’s “Safe At Home” painting featuring Jackie Robinson hangs proudly inside the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

On April 15th every year we celebrate Jackie Robinson day. Jackie was a pioneer of the civil rights movement, as a result of breaking major league baseball’s colour barrier in 1947. To say that Jackie was an incredible baseball player, is just listing one of his many significant accomplishments, as his brave actions paved the way for other civil rights activists, where Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. followed suit years later. Worthy to note is that Jackie was really just one of many talented ball players who made sacrifices far greater than most of us have experienced, and endured racism and hatred far worse than what most of us can even fathom. Several weeks ago I did an interview with the President of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Bob Kendrick, which you can listen to here. I had the pleasure of meeting up with Bob recently and he took me on a tour through the museum:

Jackie Robinson with Branch Rickey signing his Major League Contract

Jackie Robinson with Branch Rickey signing his Major League Contract

John “Buck” O’Neil, was the first black coach in the Major Leagues, and discovered the eventual Hall-of-Famer Lou Brock, signing him to his first big-league contract. In a press conference for the Negro Leagues Baseball “Hall Of Game” Ceremony on April 12th, 2014, Lou said jokingly that, “Buck thought he was my father”. Truth be told, Buck was a father figure to many, especially Brock, as well as another Hall of Fame player, Ernie Banks. He was also instrumental in signing Toronto Blue Jays World Series hero, Joe Carter.

Buck O'Neil with his young stars, Ernie Banks (left) & Lou Brock (right)

Buck O’Neil with his young stars, Ernie Banks (left) & Lou Brock (right)

If it weren’t for Jackie making the sacrifices he did, when he did, who knows how different the history books might have been. It’s possible we could be much further behind in both baseball and human civil rights.

Some of the greatest ball players to have ever played the game had reached the end of their careers before major league baseball started signing black and Hispanic players. Bob Kendrick stated that Buck always used to say, “the Negro Leagues Museum represents the men who built the bridge over the chasm of prejudice in our country”. Indeed then, it was Jackie Robinson, and many others following him who would be the ones to cross over that bridge.

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