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Collection Connections

By Popular Demand: Jackie Robinson and Other Baseball Highlights, 1860s-1960s

U.S. HistoryCritical ThinkingArts & Humanities

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Go directly to the collection, By Popular Demand: Jackie Robinson and Other Baseball Highlights, 1860s-1960s, in American Memory, or view a Summary of Resources related to the collection.

The photographs, interviews, game programs, and other materials in Jackie Robinson and Other Baseball Highlights, 1860s-1960s, provide several opportunities to make investigations into the social and economic influences on baseball. Investigations center around unique items such as a 1954 program from a Negro League game and a transcript from Robinson's appearance on NBC's news program Meet the Press. Other materials provide an opportunity to explore Robinson's contribution to promoting civil rights and to question the fairness of baseball’s reserve clause.

Chronological Thinking

This collection’s Special Presentation, "Baseball, the Color Line, and Jackie Robinson, 1860s-1960s," provides a history of the events in baseball that led to integration. Jackie Robinson’s accomplishments can also be placed in a larger social and chronological context by reviewing other American Memory collections. The African-American Odyssey chronicles the call for equality throughout American history with the Special Presentation, "African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship." One section of this presentation, "The Depression, The New Deal, and World War II," features the social and athletic achievements of African-American athletes such as tennis star Althea Gibson and track legend Jesse Owens in a portion entitled "Breaking Barriers in Sports." Jackie Robinson
Jackie Robinson,
Brooklyn, N.Y., 1954.
  • What do you think were the most significant events in the history of baseball?
  • What events established segregation in baseball and created the color line?
  • What challenges did athletes such as Gibson, Owens, and Robinson face in their respective sports?
  • How did these athletes' accomplishments relate to the progress of the civil rights movement?
  • How did Jackie Robinson’s predecessors pave the way for his arrival in Major League Baseball?

Historical Comprehension: Jackie Robinson as a Community Leader

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Jackie Robinson was celebrated both as an athlete and as a social figure. On December 8, 1956, Robinson was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), an annual prize for outstanding achievement by an African American.  The citation accompanying the medal recognized Robinson’s "superb sportsmanship, his pioneer role in opening up a new field of endeavor for young Negroes, and his civic consciousness." 

One month later, Jackie Robinson retired from baseball after being traded to the New York Giants.  He became Vice-President of Community Affairs for the restaurant chain, Chock Full O’ Nuts. He also served as Chairman of the NAACP’s Freedom Fund campaign, seeking to raise one million dollars.  Frank van der Linden asked Robinson about his role with the NAACP during an April 14, 1957 appearance on Meet the Press

Mr. Van der Linden: As a leader of NAACP, would you use the money to hire lawyers, for instance, to press school segregation cases?
Mr. Robinson: I want to make one thing clear: I am not what you call a leader of the NAACP. . . . They have asked me if I would head the Freedom Fund for this year - their campaign - and I said yes. . . . I don't touch the money; I don't see it when it goes in. I have nothing to do with it.

After Robinson was pressed on the subject, however, he said that he imagined the funds were "going to be used in our fight to achieve first-class citizenship. . . . Money is needed to hire lawyers to handle these specific cases. . . . I don't know whether the Freedom Fund is used for lawyers or whether it goes through the other branch that they have." Later in the interview, Robinson is described as "one of the leaders of your race" before being asked about the "responsibility of the Negro himself and, maybe, of the NAACP" in reducing the high crime rate among African Americans.  

  • Why do members of the press consider Robinson a "leader" of the NAACP and of African Americans in general?
  • Why does Robinson initially contest the notion of being a leader of the NAACP?
  • How might the NAACP describe Robinson’s role in the organization as a chairman for a campaign fund?
  • Do you think Robinson felt obligated to explain where he thought the NAACP money might go? Why might he have felt such obligation despite having explained that he wasn't an NAACP leader?
  • Is there a difference between being a "leader" and, as the Spingarn Medal notes, having a "civic consciousness"?
  • How does Robinson’s role in the African-American community compare to other recipients of the Spingarn Medal such as W.E.B. DuBois (1920), George Washington Carver (1923), Richard Wright (1941), and Martin Luther King, Jr. (1957)?
  • To what extent are a leader's responsibilites taken upon by one's self and to what extent are they created by others' perceptions and expectations?

Historical Analysis and Interpretation: 1954 Negro League Game Program

Jackie Robinson’s signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 paved the way for other African-American baseball players. The demise of the color line also marked the beginning of the end of the Negro Leagues which lost both their players and their fans to major league baseball. The last Negro League games were played in 1955. A 1954 program for a contest between the Kansas City Monarchs and the Indianapolis Clowns provides an example of how the League appealed to its audience.

Photographs and biographies of "Feminine Stars" such as Toni Stone, who started at second base for the Kansas City Monarchs and was "famous as the first girl to play in the League," follow articles such as "Interesting Facts About the Negro League."Other attractions included Things You Might Like to Know about Clown Ed Hamman, a photograph of King Tut and his wife with bandleader Lionel Hampton, and two pages of humor from Ed Hamman, the premiere funny man of the Indianapolis Clowns. King Tut
King Tut and His Wife with Lionel Hampton, 1954.
  • What role do features such as female baseball players, celebrities, and humor play in a baseball game?
  • Are these features the type of things you would expect to be find in a game program?
  • How much of the program focuses on the game being played?
  • Who is the target audience of the different articles in the program?
  • What does this program tell you about what a game in the Negro League might have been like in 1954?
  • What are some possible reasons why the Negro League might have included features such as humor and celebrities in their entertainment in 1954?
  • What seems to have been the appeal of the League itself in the 1950s?
  • How do notions of nostalgia and spectacle contribute to the marketing of the League?
    Program Cover
Cover of Negro League Baseball Game Program, 1954.

Historical Issue-Analysis and Decision-Making: Baseball’s Reserve Clause

The reserve clause in a baseball player’s contract requires that he stay with the team with which he signs until the team owner decides to trade him. This inability to freely move from one team to another has been a part of professional baseball since 1876. In 1917, a lawsuit, aimed at removing the reserve clause, claimed that baseball owners had an unfair monopoly on their product. The lawsuit failed, however, and the reserve clause remains a part of baseball today.

Antitrust legislation in the early twentieth century broke up monopolies such as Standard Oil. However, professional baseball became exempt from such laws when the Supreme Court ruled in 1922 that professional baseball was a sport and not a business. Despite the fact that all other professional sports are subject to antitrust legislation (which prompted them to institute salary caps and other rules that prohibited one team from snapping up all of the best players in a league), baseball still enjoys this antitrust exemption.

Robinson in Dodger Uniform
Jackie Robinson in Dodger Uniform,
From Comic Book, 1951.

Jackie Robinson ended his ten-year career in major league baseball when he retired in 1956. Around the same time that he announced his retirement, he learned that he was being traded from the Brooklyn Dodgers to the New York Giants. During his April 14, 1957 appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, reporters questioned Robinson about his opinion of the reserve clause, quoting Congressman Emmanuel Celler: "'The few who own the Major League clubs aren't trying to benefit the public but only to make all the money they can by moving players around like pawns and chattels.' You were one of the players who was moved around. Do you think that statement is true or false?"   Despite his personal experience, Robinson defended the reserve clause as the best available means by which club owners could keep from losing players to other teams:

At the present time I would have to go along with it, because there has to be some sort of protection. Until they find some other way to handle all these situations, I think that - it is a personal observation, but I think they have to continue it. In all my years of baseball I have always expected to be traded. I never liked the idea. I expected it because that is the way baseball has been run all along, but I don't see at this time any way that they can handle the situation. . . .

I don't know why I'm defending this reserve clause . . . so, I will just say here, for the players' benefit certainly something should be done, but I hope it doesn't have to be done through the courts.

  • Why does Robinson defend the clause?
  • Should a policy be defended simply because it is the only system currently available? Why or why not?
  • How does this attitude compare with Robinson breaking the color line?
  • Is the reserve clause fair to players? Why or why not?
  • Is major league baseball a business or a sport? Explain.
  • Should the league be exempt from antitrust legislation?
  • Why are other professional sports leagues subject to antitrust legislation?

Historical Research Capabilities

Baseball stadiums often serve as a recreation and entertainment center in the heart of an urban area. This collection features a photograph of the Polo Grounds during a 1913 World Series game and October 6, 1920 images of baseball fans waiting outside Ebbets Field and watching the World Series game.  Insurance maps of Ebbets Field and Blues Stadium provide an opportunity to see how these parks related to the neighborhoods that surrounded them, while additional photographs of stadiums are available in the American Memory collection, Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991. These materials provide an opportunity to examine the role these stadiums played in the life of the city.

  • Where, within a city, are stadiums built?
  • What is the relationship between stadiums and the areas (neighborhoods, business districts, etc.) that surround them?
  • How has this relationship changed over time?
  • How has the design of ballparks changed over time?
    Spectators at Pittsburg Detroit game
Spectators at a Pittsburg-Detroit Game,
Pittsburgh, 1909.
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Last updated 09/26/2002