Jack Roosevelt Robinson—the baseball player who was better known as “Jackie” and who was celebrated for breaking the color barrier in his sport—had a civil rights past that is often overlooked. Of course, given his extraordinary baseball skills, it’s understandable that baseball’s the main source of his fame.
During his service as a second lieutenant in the US Army at the time of World War II, he refused the direction of a civiliam bus driver to move from his seat near the front of a bus and take a seat in the back. He was aquited of insubordination in court martial proceedings and ultimately received an honorable discharge.
Later, of course, Mr. Robinson became the first black player in the modern major leagues. Ample accounts of the abuse that he endured are available. Perhaps his well-documented capacity to ignore the insults hurled at him was developed during his military days.
Arnold Rampersad’s Jackie Robinson: A Biography (Knopf, 1997) provides excellent coverage of this and other aspects of Mr. Robinson’s life. Some day I hope to rent a video, entitled “The Court-Martial of Jackie Robinson,” that is supposed to recount some of these events.