World War I Soldier Helped Desegregate Baseball
By David Vergun
via the defense.gov web site
Branch Rickey was an Army officer in the Chemical Warfare Service during World War I. In his unit, coincidentally, were future baseball greats Ty Cobb and Christy Mathewson. Rickey would also take a place in baseball history, thanks to his decision to do the right thing.
In October 1945, as general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Rickey signed infielder Jackie Robinson, an African American, for the Dodgers' minor league organization. Robinson's later success with the Dodgers from 1947 to 1956 led other owners to seek Black talent.
This was before the U.S. military integrated, which happened July 26, 1948, after President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order establishing the President's Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services, committing the government to integrating the then-segregated military.
At the time, no statute barred Blacks from playing professional baseball. However, it was an unwritten rule among club owners that they were not welcome.
Rickey was said to have appreciated the service and sacrifices African Americans made during World War I and II, and he was eager to enlist their services in baseball.
He also remembered a Black player from the baseball team he coached at Ohio Wesleyan University in 1903 and 1904 who was denied hotel accommodations. The incident was said to have made him furious, and he personally intervened to let the player spend the night there.
Rickey later said: ''I may not be able to do something about racism in every field, but I can sure do something about it in baseball.'
Read the entire article on the defense.gov web site.
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