Jackie Robinson's Life in Photos

The first Black man to play in Major League Baseball never stopped breaking barriers

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Jackie Robinson's Early Life

Mallie Robinson (C) poses for a family portrait with her children
Hulton Archive/Getty

Jackie Robinson was born on Jan. 31, 1919, in Cairo, Georgia, growing up with his mother and four older siblings in Pasadena, California.

02 of 15

Jackie Robinson at UCLA

Jackie Robinson
Archive Photos/Getty

According to his namesake foundation's website, he was "a star athlete" at UCLA, and lettered in football, basketball, track and, of course, baseball.

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Jackie Robinson in the U.S. Army

Jackie Robinson
Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty

Robinson served in the Army during World War II, though was honorably discharged, according to his foundation, for refusing to move to the back of a segregated military bus — one of his many acts for racial justice in his lifetime.

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Jackie Robinson and Wife Rachel

Jackie Robinson

Robinson married fellow UCLA student Rachel Isum on Feb. 10, 1946, after five years of dating.

In a 2013 chat with PEOPLE, Rachel recalled thinking "he'd be arrogant" after a friend told her she should meet the popular jock. But "when I met Jack, he was so humble, so thoughtful — and handsome," Rachel said. "I thought, 'I'm glad I was wrong!' "

The couple presented an ever-united front against the rampant racism Robinson faced, which included death threats directed at both him and Rachel.

"We knew the end goal was important," Rachel said. "We weren't going to lose because some crazies were shouting insults and throwing balls at his head. We really felt that as long as we were together, nothing could happen to us. And luckily nothing ever did."

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Jackie Robinson's Children with Wife Rachel

Jackie Robinson

The Robinsons had three children: Jackie Jr., born in 1946, Sharon, born in 1950, and David, born in 1952. Jackie Jr. tragically died in a car accident at just 24 years old.

In a 2013 PEOPLE interview, Sharon recalled her father as "a giant of a man." One of her memories included ice skating in the backyard of the family's Stamford, Connecticut, home.

"Jack and I made a pact that our home would be a haven," Rachel said in the same interview of creating normalcy and shielding their children from the intense spotlight their father faced.

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Jackie Robinson with the Kansas City Monarchs

Jackie Robinson

Robinson's first move toward the major league came in 1944, when he joined the Negro Leagues as a shortstop for the Kansas City Monarchs.

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Jackie Robinson with the Montreal Royals

Jackie Robinson

His life changed one year later, when Brooklyn Dodgers GM Branch Rickey asked Robinson to sign with the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers' all-white farm team — making him the league's first and only Black player.

According to the Jackie Robinson Foundation, "Rickey professed he needed a player who could bear the torment, famously telling Robinson he was 'looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back.' "

08 of 15

Jackie Robinson's First Game with the Brooklyn Dodgers

Jackie Robinson

Robinson held his own and then some, and on April 10, 1947, he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers, playing his history-making first game as No. 42 in the majors on April 15 of that year. The first baseman endured racist taunts and even some physical violence from fans, opposing teams and his own teammates during play, though according to biography.com, had the staunch support of Dodgers manager Leo Durocher, league president Ford Frick and Dodgers team captain, Pee Wee Reese, among others.

His success ultimately opened the door for other Black players in the months and years that followed.

09 of 15

Jackie Robinson Wins League MVP

Jackie Robinson

No. 42 netted an impressive .311 batting average and 137 home runs in his career, helping lead the Dodgers to a World Series Championship against local rivals the New York Yankees in 1955. In 1947 he won Rookie of the Year, and here, in 1949, won league MVP, the first Black player to do so. He retired on Jan. 5, 1957, following a trade to the New York Giants.

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Jackie Robinson Is Inducted Into the Baseball Hall of Fame

Jackie Robinson

In 1962, Robinson became the first Black player to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

"I never thought at all that I would have this wonderful honor coming to me so early in my lifetime," he said in his speech. "We have been up in cloud nine since the election. I don't ever think I'll come down. But I want to thank all of the people throughout this country who were just so wonderful during those trying days. I appreciate it at no end and it's the greatest honor any person could have and I only hope that I'll be able to live up to this tremendously fine honor. It's something that I think those of us who are fortunate again, must use in order to help others."

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Jackie Robinson Off the Field

Jackie Robinson
Acme Photography/Sports Studio Photos/Getty

His post-MLB career included working as the first Black analyst on ABC's Major League Baseball game of the Week, in addition to other announcing gigs.

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Jackie Robinson's Corporate and Social Work

Jackie Robinson and William Black

Robinson continued his quest for racial equality in the years after he left baseball, both working with the NAACP and taking positions of prominence with companies like Chock Full O' Nuts — making him the first Black vice president of a big American company — and his own Freedom National Bank of Harlem, which he co-founded to give financial aid to Black communities.

He also worked on national campaigns about drug addicition, as his eldest son, Jackie Jr., struggled throughout some of his life with the disease.

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Jackie Robinson's Final Public Appearance

Jackie Robinson

Robinson — here at his final public appearance, throwing out the first pitch before game 2 of the 1972 World Series in Cincinnati — died at the age of 53 on Oct. 24, 1972, after suffering a heart attack.

One year later, his widow Rachel established the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which "provides four-year scholarships and a host of support services, including career guidance, internship placement, and leadership development opportunities to talented college students with limited financial resources," according to the foundation's website.

Following his death, he was honored with both the Presidential Medal of Freedom (by Ronald Reagan in 1984) and the Congressional Gold Medal (by George W. Bush in 2005).

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Jackie Robinson in Movies, on Stage

Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford 42
Legendary Pictures/Kobal/Shutterstock

Robinson's story has been told several times on stage and on film, most notably in the 2013 movie 42, starring Chadwick Boseman. Bosemandied of colon cancer on Jackie Robinson Day in 2020, which had been delayed to late August because of the COVID pandemic.

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Jackie Robinson Day

Cincinnati Reds players wear No. 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson Day
Joe Robbins/Getty

On April 15, 1997, the 50th anniversary of his historic first game, Robinson's number was retired league-wide, a first for major sports. Beginning in 2007, players across the league started wearing his No. 42 every April 15 in observance of Jackie Robinson Day, a tradition that continues this year.

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