Immediate Reaction

Jackie Robinson’s move to the Brooklyn Dodgers took place in amid a web of complex racial, philosophical and societal norms. His joining the all-white team  triggered different reactions in different people and communities.

There was resistance. In 1947, society was drawn along sharp racial lines and early integration efforts like this one challenged the belief system and norms of a great many people, Brooklyn’s own ethnically divided communities included.

Ebbets Field, anchor of Brooklyn’s diverse communities , pictured on its opening day in 1913

Ebbets Field, meeting place for Brooklyn’s diverse communities , pictured on its opening day in 1913

Opposition to Robinson’s signing began in spring training, before his first game with Brooklyn. Dodgers of Southern origin began to circulate in internal petition, spearheaded by the aforementioned Dixie Walker, to bar Robinson from playing with the Dodgers. Walker reportedly threatened to quit and pressured his southern teammates to do the same should Robinson sign with Brooklyn. Branch Rickey quickly suppressed the petition, offering to transfer Walker and any other Dodger who would not play with Robinson. Ultimately, none of the petition signers actually quit.

Hostility toward Robinson took more violent forms as the groundbreaking season went on. To name just a few incidents, Robinson received death threats before playing in Cincinnati and was baited with racial slurs and threats from the entire Philadelphia Phillies lineup. St. Louis’ Enos Slaughter also badly injured Robinson when he allegedly intentionally stepped on Robinson’s leg while sliding into first with his metal spiked cleats.

More broadly, Robinson often encountered heckling and aggression from the white working classes. After World War II, competition for blue collar jobs was tight with soldiers of all races returning home. White communities feared upwardly mobile African-Americans would soon take their jobs, and for them, the integration of baseball embodied these fears.

While opposition to Rickey’s decision was vocal and widespread, Robinson and Rickey found immediate support in a great many people as well.

For example, the Daily Boston Globe published an article claiming that “ Robinson’s one-man war against prejudice, carried on with patience, perseverance and pride, captured the admiration and respect of every clear-thinking American.” The Philadelphia Tribune echoed this sentiment in writing  “His was the quiet confidence and becoming humility in speech that makes for true greatness in any of life’s varied fields.”

Further, Robinson had the support of  African-American communities across the country.

This article, published in the prominent African American newspaper, The Pittsburgh Courier, commends Rickey’s decision to bring up Robinson and addresses its importance nationally.

“What the People Think: Open Letter to Branch Rickey”. The Pittsburgh Courier, Nov 10, 1945

“What the People Think: Open Letter to Branch Rickey”. The Pittsburgh Courier, Nov 10, 1945

In 1947, reaction was mixed, much like the population’s opinion on integration as a whole.


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