Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson: The Faith Factor

Tomorrow, April 15, marks the day in 1947 when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball. The executive who signed him with the express purpose of combating racism was Branch Rickey, President of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Today, CNN reports that Branch Rickey’s faith was a strong motivation for his decision to sign Robinson. Roll the tape:

I watched the CNN segment this morning and reporter Ed Henry said that he told President Obama about the segment of Robinson and Rickey. Obama commented that the Rickey-Robinson breakthrough had impact on every part of American society, including his election as the first African-American President.

I share a hometown with Branch Rickey — Portsmouth, Ohio — and was always reminded of his legacy because I played my high school baseball in Branch Rickey Park (pictured below).

To me, Branch Rickey’s role in this story is sweet irony. Race relations were tense in my hometown. For most of my life there, African-Americans were segregated into neighborhoods surrounding a large public housing project. There was strong prejudice and discrimination there, even among Christians. And yet, Branch Rickey left the small town to make history in the big city in a way that changed attitudes about race forever.

Watch the clip or read the entire transcript here but I will close with this paragraph:

When a well-known journalist of the era told the Dodgers general manager that he thought “all hell would break loose” the next day with Robinson due to take the field for the first time as a Brooklyn Dodger, Rickey disagreed. “My grandfather immediately responded to him, ‘I believe tomorrow all heaven will rejoice,’” the younger Rickey said.

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  • Ann

    Thank you Dr. Throckmorton – I did not know this story and was inspired by it. The Dodgers are also the best baseball team that ever was – in Brooklyn and in Los Angeles!

  • I always thought it strange that Portsmouth would celebrate Branch Rickey (and center-fielder Al Oliver), and yet racial bigotry there was the strongest I’ve ever experienced. I’ve lived in Cincinnati, Washington, D.C., and Dallas, all of which had some very serious racial problems. But none of them were like Portsmouth. It’s the only place I’ve ever lived where I personally knew active members of the KKK. They were neighbors.

    I still remember particularly the knife’s edge we all walked when Roots played on television. The scene where Kunta Kinte was tied up and whipped was particularly “amusing” among my white classmates. Gangs gathered on streets surrounding the high school for hours after school let out, just waiting for blacks to leave the building. They finally had to call police to break it up. Very dark times.

    I have a lot of fond memories of growing up in Portsmouth, but overall I’d have to say it is a good place to be FROM.

    By the way, there’s a new biography of Branch Rickey out:

  • Tomorrow, April 15, marks the day in 1947 when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball.

    Go Dodgers! Think Blue!

  • and…. sometimes these days it can be easy to see the tragedy, chaos, and misery that can result from people ‘acting on their faith’. It’s nice to be reminded that faith can also inspire greatness and the courage to do what’s right when no one else is willing to.

  • @Ann & Timothy – Um, go Reds!

    @Timothy – Yes, I agree. I was really drawn to this story for reasons that might be obvious and some not.

    @Jim – Can we get a t-shirt that says I survived Porchmuth? Actually because of the color of our skin, we had it easy. Sticking up for African-American friends had risks but nothing like the fear they felt.

  • Ann

    Sticking up for African-American friends had risks but nothing like the fear they felt.

    Thank you for saying this – it is so important to remember. I remember when I met Michael Bussee and his wonderful friends at Jeffrey’s memorial – Michael and I went to the parking lot where his best friend became the victim of discrimination and it ended in a hate crime of unspeakable horror. It was one of those beautiful nights in southern California – I was with a man who was a perfect gentleman to me, and yet I felt fear when I was in that parking lot. Fear is fear and we all have known it in one way or another, however, to understand the fear of another, and be vigilent or intervene on their behalf, is what we must do so that it does not continue.

  • Ann

    Um, go Reds!

    Ok, we will see 🙂 In the meantime, The Dodgers totally (so. CA. term) ROCK!

  • David

    “There was strong prejudice and discrimination there, even among Christians.”

    Strike the word “even” and replace with “particularly, as one would expect,”.