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Jackie Robinson Day in Major League Baseball

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on April 14, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

On April 15th, Major League Baseball with celebrate Jackie Robinson Day. All players and coaches will wear Robinson's now-retired 42 to mark the day that Robinson played his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

Robinson's debut helped to end the racial segregation in baseball that had kept black ballplayers in the Negro Leagues since the 1880s, and became a source of inspiration for the burgeoning civil rights movement.

Separate Is Inherently Unequal

For the majority of Robinson's baseball career, racial segregation was not only common practice, but it was sanctioned by law. In 1896, the Supreme Court decided Plessy v. Ferguson, which held that state laws mandating racial segregation were constitutional. This was the Court's now infamous "separate but equal" doctrine.

As a result, when Robinson began Spring Training with the Dodgers' minor league affiliate team in Florida in 1946, he could not stay in the team hotel and several fields refused to open for training and games in which Robinson was involved.

Although Robinson "broke the color barrier" and his signing paved the way for other black major league players, racial segregation would remain legal until 1954, when the Supreme Court overturned Plessy in Brown v. Board of Education. While legal or de jure segregation was prohibited, de facto segregation, or segregation in fact, continued. For example, the Boston Red Sox were the last team to introduce a black player, in 1959.

Lasting Legacy

Prior to his professional career, Robinson was also at the forefront of military segregation. With the help of boxing champion and fellow soldier Joe Louis, Robinson fought for and gained admission into the Army's Officer Candidate School. President Harry Truman would eventually desegregate the military in 1948.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. recognized Robinson as "a legend and a symbol in his own time" and several historians have noted Robinson's impact on the civil rights movement and on the opinions of both white and black Americans on racial integration and equal rights.

In addition to all players wearing Robinson's number, many teams have additional tributes planned to recognize the legendary player's influence, both on the field and off.

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