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April 12, 1947
On April 12, 1947, the New York Amsterdam News reported exciting news from the sporting world. “Jackie Robinson became the first Negro to crash major league baseball when he was signed by Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers at 3:30 P.M. Thursday afternoon when Robinson’s contract was purchased by the Brooklyn Dodgers from the Montreal Royals,” Amsterdam editor Dan Burley wrote. “It is still a dark mystery whether Robinson will play the opening game, and if he will get the nod for the first base post. But in whatever capacity Jackie Robinson now becomes the first Negro to crack the hoary-headed-lily-white tradition of lily-whitism in major league baseball.”
When the twenty-eight-year-old Robinson made his major league debut on April 15, it was covered in black newspapers across the country. The Chicago Defender ran a banner headline, “Jackie Robinson Opens the Door...Makes History,” while the Pittsburgh Courier noted, “Fans Throng to Jackie’s Debut.” “It’s really official now,” the Cleveland Call and Post said. “When Jackie Robinson, brilliant Negro infielder walked out from the Dodger dugout at Ebbetts Field Thursday to take his position at first for the Bums, his long, uphill struggle to surmount the barrier against Negro players entering the Major League climaxed with a reverberation that was heard around the nation. In millions of Negro homes, Junior went down into the cellar or dug into his ‘treasure chest’ for that battered fielders mitt, and from now on he will pound it with a new determination when the gang lines up to choose sides on the sandlots.” The Norfolk Journal and Guide’s headline, “Robinson First in Majors Since Fleetwood Moses, in 1884,” gestured toward a longer history of black professional baseball players (though the paper misordered Moses Fleetwood Walker’s name). The Los Angeles Sentinel proudly noted that Robinson was a Pasadenan and that Jackie and his wife Rachel were graduates of the University of California, Los Angeles. The Sentinel also reported that “some 5,000 Negroes streaked across New York from Harlem last Friday to swell the buzzing crowd to 14,282.”
In the Pittsburgh Courier, editor William Nunn coupled his praise of Robinson with a word of caution to black baseball fans. “Now the real challenge faces Negro America!,” Dunn wrote. “The challenge of taking this tremendous victory in stride! The challenge to keep our big mouths closed and give Jackie the chance to PROVE he’s major league calibre! The challenge to conduct ourselves at these ball games in the recognized American way! The challenge to NOT recognize the appearance of Jackie Robinson as the signal for a Roman holiday, with the Bacchanalian orgy complex! The challenge to leave whiskey bottles at home or on the shelves of the liquor store...and to leave our loud talking, obscene language and indecent dress on the outside of the ball parks.” The Chicago Defender’s Fay Young made a similar point in his column. “Robinson will not be on trial as much as the Negro fan,” Young warned. “The Negro fan has been the ’hot potato’ dodged by managers who would have taken a chance by signing a Negro player. The unruly Negro has and can set us back 25 years...The Negro fan can help Robinson. The Negro fan can ruin him. Robinson is an American citizen, an ex-army officer, a ball player and a gentleman. Let us try and meet his qualifications as a gentleman. If you Chicagoans have got to raise a lot of hell, do a lot of cussing, go somewhere else” (click to view PDF).
Finally, the Pittsburgh Courier carried a column from Jackie Robinson. “I know now that dreams do come true,” Robinson said. “I will never stop trying. I hope I’ll get better and better every day and help bring a pennant and world series to Brooklyn. Being up here is absolutely wonderful. That’s why I’m a believer in fairy tales now. You see, it actually happened to me.”