THE JACKIE ROBINSON STORY
SUBJECTS — Biography; Sports/Baseball; U.S./ 1945 – 1991 & Diversity;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Male Role Model;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness; Respect; Citizenship.
AGE: 8+; No MPAA Rating;
Drama; 1950; 76 minutes; B & W. Available from Amazon.com.
MOVIE WORKSHEETS & STUDENT HANDOUTS
TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students’ minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.
Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project.
This is a film biography of Jackie Robinson, the first black man permitted to play major league baseball. Jackie Robinson portrays himself in the movie.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
Selected Awards: None.
Featured Actors: Jackie Robinson, Ruby Dee, Minor Watson, Louise Beavers, Richard Lane, Harry Shannon, Billy Wayne, Joel Fluellen, Ben Lessy.
Director: Alfred E. Green
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
This film describes some of the difficulties encountered by Robinson as he broke the color line in the big leagues. It is especially useful to supplement courses in modern U.S. history for students with a strong interest in sports.
Tell your child about the self-control that Jackie Robinson had to exhibit in the early years and some of his achievements after he stopped playing baseball. See the Helpful Background section. Then ask and help your child to answer the Quick Discussion Question.
The life of Jack Roosevelt Robinson (1919 – 1972) spans a period of great achievement for black Americans. From the time Robinson was born, through the 1940s, opportunities for blacks in business, the professions, and sports were limited. By the end of his life, equal opportunity was the law of the land and major league sports were open to black Americans. Jackie Robinson played a leading role in that change.
Born in Cairo, Georgia, Robinson grew up in Pasadena, California. He was a sports star at UCLA where he went to college, lettering in football, baseball, basketball, and track. When he graduated, he was widely regarded as the finest all-around athlete in the United States. Yet, big-league sports weren’t open to him.
Robinson served three years in the U.S. Army during WWII. The Army was segregated at the time and Robinson protested the discriminatory treatment of black soldiers. On one occasion he refused to move to the back of a bus when ordered to do so by a driver. For this he was court-martialed but the trial ended in an acquittal. Robinson was honorably discharged from the Army in 1944 with the rank of first lieutenant.
In 1945, Robinson broke the color bar against blacks in baseball by signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers organization. He spent the 1946 season with its farm club, the Montreal Royals. In 1947, with the support of Branch Rickey, the legendary manager of the Dodgers, Robinson began playing with the Dodgers. During his first year in the majors, Robinson batted .297 with 125 runs scored and twenty-nine stolen bases. The Dodgers won the pennant and Robinson won the Rookie of the Year award.
Robinson knew that the first several years in the majors would be tough. Branch Rickey told him he’d have to turn the other cheek and not fight back for at least three years. His white teammates got up a petition to keep him off the team. Pitchers threw at him. Base runners dug their spikes into his shin. “Fans” yelled racial epithets and asked him to carry their bags and shine their shoes. Others threw trash, tomatoes, rocks, watermelon slices, and Sambo dolls at him. But Robinson persevered. In 1949, he was selected as the most valuable player in baseball. His lifetime batting average was .311 and he was a daring base runner. Robinson retired in 1957 after helping the Dodgers with six pennants and one World Series. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.
These were not all of Robinson’s contributions to baseball. He inspired a generation of black ball players: Hank Aaron, Roy Campanella, Monte Irvin, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Frank Robinson, Bob Gibson and others. Listening to Robinson’s speeches and following in his footsteps, they played as if they were on a mission. Nor did Robinson complaisantly accept the role that the major leagues had set out for him. He pushed an often reluctant sport for more opportunities for blacks. Hank Aaron notes that Robinson “campaigned for baseball to hire a black third-base coach, then a black manager. In 1969 he refused an invitation to play in an old-timers’ game at Yankee Stadium to protest the lack of progress along those lines.” Time Article: Jackie Robinson He thrilled fans, shattered baseball’s color barrier and changed the face of the nation, written by Henry Aaron.
All of this would have been more than enough for one man, but Jackie Robinson wasn’t just a baseball player. When he retired from baseball he went into business, becoming a Vice President of Chock Full O’ Nuts, a national coffee and restaurant chain. Later he co-founded Freedom National Bank of Harlem serving as Chairman of its Board from 1964 to 1972. 1970 saw the organization of the Jackie Robinson Construction Corporation. Robinson’s efforts in banking and construction were aimed toward improving living conditions for black Americans, especially those living in the major metropolitan areas.
Throughout his career in business and in sports, Robinson supported the struggle for civil rights. He traveled extensively to raise funds for the NAACP and developed close relationships with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as other prominent civil rights and political leaders. Recognizing the strong support that the American Jewish community had given to the Civil Rights Movement and the fact that respect for one minority leads to respect for all minorities, Robinson also supported the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai Brith. In 1956, the NAACP awarded Robinson its highest award for achievement by an African American, the prestigious Spingarn Medal.
What was Jackie Robinson’s unique contribution? After all, Joe Louis, the boxing heavyweight champion had shown that a black man could defeat whites. There are several good answers. Here are two. Jackie Robinson not only showed the blacks could compete against whites, he showed that they could compete with whites, together on the same team. In addition, by answering the epithets and trash hurled at him with dignity and kindness, he showed how mean-spirited and disgusting racism was.
Robinson died in 1972, having helped to change his country for the better and leaving a rich legacy for us all.
THE ROLE OF ECONOMICS AND HOW BRANCH RICKEY CONVINCED ROBINSON NOT TO FIGHT BACK
A most interesting perspective and a fascinating vignette about the integration of baseball are summarized at Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball — New Book Chronicles Breaking of the Major League Color Barrier an interview with Scott Simon, author of Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball.
“The Yankees were winning year after year after year and the largest source of unscouted baseball talent were the Negro Leagues, … There was always the feeling that the baseball owner or general manager who had the nerve to bring in top Negro League stars could win a few pennants.
Rickey considered other players from the Negro Leagues. Satchel Page, the biggest draw and highest-paid player in baseball at the time, was considered too old, … Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella could have come in at the same time as Robinson.
“But Rickey was convinced that the team would rally behind a single African-American ballplayer who would have the nerve and the gumption to stand the gaff. …
When Rickey brought Robinson into his office in 1945, he had to see whether Robinson could stand up to the inevitable taunts, pressure and death threats that would come. Rickey played the role of “every foul-mouth, low-life, bigoted rube that he had ever half overheard at a sporting event…” He got in Robinson’s face and took a swing at him, but missed.
“But Branch Rickey made his point: ‘You’re going to have to put up with this kind of talk.’ And Jackie Robinson said, ‘Well, Mr. Rickey, do you want a player who doesn’t have the guts to fight back?’ And that’s when Branch Rickey delivered his greatest line: ‘Jackie, how about a ballplayer with the guts not to fight back?'”
Simon says Rickey “took Robinson, who was one of the most intensely competitive human beings imaginable, and he made the measure of his success having the courage not to fight back.”
Robinson in the uniform of the Kansas
City franchise of the Negro League
Branch Rickey (1881 – 1965) was a baseball executive who established the farm system in which major league clubs owned minor league operations. Farm teams (also called minor league teams) were used to train promising young players. In 1945, when Rickey was general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, he hired Jackie Robinson.
Jackie Robinson’s widow, Rachel Robinson, established the Jackie Robinson Foundation in 1973. The foundation awards students of color four-year academic scholarships to colleges.
[No suggested Answers.]
2. Why did it take so long for black baseball players to be accepted in the major leagues?
The strong racism in the U.S. at the time prevented integration of black players into the major leagues.
3. What was Jackie Robinson’s unique contribution to the United States? After all, Joe Louis, the boxing heavyweight champion, had shown that blacks could win against whites.
A good answer will discuss at least one of the following: Jackie Robinson not only showed that blacks could compete against whites, he showed that they could compete with whites, together on the same team. In addition, by answering the epithets and trash hurled at him with dignity and kindness, he showed how mean-spirited and disgusting racism was.
MALE ROLE MODEL
1. What did Jackie Robinson achieve in his life, other than breaking Major League Baseball’s color bar, that justifies holding him up as a male role model?
The answer should touch on Robinson’s role of objecting to discrimination in the military and, after he retired from baseball, his career as a businessman and supporter of civil rights.
2. The Brooklyn Dodgers had an economic and competitive incentive to break the color bar in National League baseball. What was it?
The Yankees were beating just about everyone. The best available pool of untapped talent was in the Negro Leagues. It was common knowledge that some of the players in the Negro Leagues were better than most whites who played in the major leagues.
3. How did Branch Rickey motivate Robinson, a very competitive man who stood up for his rights, to turn the other cheek against all of the racist insults and assaults that he had to endure?
When Jackson asked Branch Rickey if he wanted a player who didn’t have the guts to fight back. Rickey replied, “Jackie, how about a ballplayer with the guts not to fight back?” He threw down the gauntlet to Robinson and made it a point of pride not to fight back.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Be honest; Don’t deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal — stand by your family, friends, and country)
1. If you were asked to be the first black person to integrate the major leagues, or the first black child to integrate a school, would you do it, or would you let someone else go first? Explain why.
There is no one right answer. A good negative response would come up with some very compelling reasons.
(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act — consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)
2. How did Jackie Robinson react during the early years of his major league career when racists taunted him?
He turned the other cheek. His manager, Branch Rickey, asked that he be “man enough not to fight back.”
3. Jackie Robinson broke into the major leagues at age 28. There were many years in which his play was major league quality but the “color line” prevented him from playing in the major leagues. What element of the Responsibility Pillar of Character did he demonstrate in those years?
He kept working hard even though the opportunity was denied to him. He persevered and always did his best.
(Do your share to make your school and community better; Cooperate; Stay informed; vote; Be a good neighbor; Obey laws and rules; Respect authority; Protect the environment)
4. How did Jackie Robinson help his country?
There many ways to phrase a correct answer to this question, from simply saying that he broke the color bar to not fighting back. A good answer would include a reference to his activities as a businessman and a civil rights activist.
(For additional questions, see the “Trustworthiness” category above.)
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
- Assignments, Projects, and Activities for Use With Any Film that is a Work of Fiction;
- Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories, and Plays; and
- Have students write a report on Jackie Robinson’s activities after he retired from baseball and what role that played in establishing his legacy.
BRIDGES TO READING
Books recommended for middle school and junior high readers include: The Story of Negro League Baseball by William Brashler; Black, Diamond: The Story of the Negro Baseball Leagues by Patricia C. McKissack; Jackie Robinson by Mandfred Weidhorn; In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord, illustrated by Marc Simont; Thank You, Jackie Robinson by Barbara Cohen, illustrated by Richard Cuffari.
LINKS TO THE INTERNET
- See Jackie Robinson and other Baseball Highlights by the Library of Congress;
- Article on Jackie Robinson in the Time Library;
- The Jackie Robinson Foundation;
- Time Article: Jackie Robinson He thrilled fans, shattered baseball’s color barrier and changed the face of the nation, written by Henry Aaron;
This Learning Guide was last updated on April 8, 2010.