Born in Georgia in 1919 to a family of sharecroppers, Robinson did not have an easy route to the top tiers of professional baseball. He got his start in athletics, learning from his two older brothers, one of whom was an Olympic Silver Medallist. He competed on four varsity teams in High School, excelling at American football, basketball, athletics, and, of course, baseball, while also establishing himself as a regionally notable tennis player.
He later enrolled at UCLA, becoming the first athlete in school history to achieve varsity status in four sports, competing in the same four sports as he did in high school, while also meeting his future wife and earning a semi-professional football contract in Honolulu, at one of the nation’s first integrated teams.
His football career would unfortunately be cut short by a 1942 draft letter, which saw Robinson spend two years away from athletics. Upon his discharge, however, he was drafted by the Kansas City Monarchs to play minor league baseball in an all-black league, all the while searching for a major league spot but facing significant bigoted backlash.
He was eventually scouted by the Brooklyn Dodgers, where a sympathetic, pro-integration front office pulled strings to find him a spot in the side, bringing an end to sixty years of segregation in Major League Baseball. Throughout his eventual eleven year playing career, Robinson faced incredible racist backlash, but silenced his critics with a World Championship win, a consistently impressive batting average, and a string of dominant performances on the pitching mound.
Since his retirement, Robinson became a prominent advocate for integration and the civil rights movement, also leaving behind a great legacy in the world of baseball, where he is known for pioneering the “long ball” style of play.
In 1999, he was named by TIME magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century, alongside Mahatma Gandhi, Muhammad Ali, and Rosa Parks.
He passed away in 1972, leaving behind a legacy not just as a fiercely talented athlete but also as a civil rights trailblazer, and is a definitive sporting icon for Black History Month.