Early Life

Born on January 31, 1919 in Georgia and raised in Pasadena, California, Robinson grew up as the youngest of five children. His father left the family in 1920, prompting the Robinsons to move to California to be closer to family. Once in Pasadena, they found a home in a relatively white and monied neighborhood.  As one of the few African-American families, the Robinsons grew up keenly aware of their race.

Despite his family’s minority status, Robinson forged a name for himself through his athletic excellence.  In high school, Robinson earned varsity letters in baseball, football, basketball, and track. His athletic prowess afforded him the opportunity to enroll in University of California Los Angeles as a four sport scholar athlete.

Robinson competing in the long jump for UCLA, 1945

Robinson competing in the long jump for UCLA, 1945

At UCLA Robinson became the school’s first four letter athlete and he gained national attention in track and field by breaking the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s long jump record. At the integrated school, Robinson played with near-professional athletes of all races, and met his future wife Rachel Isum. Both experiences would prove to be important factors in Robinson’s professional baseball career.

In 1940, Robinson dropped out just prior to graduating, to support his financially struggling family. After leaving UCLA, Robinson coached youth sports leagues, played semi professional football and in 1942, signed with the Honolulu Bears to play football professionally.

Like so many others though, Robinson’s life and career were altered by World War II.


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