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Publicity image from the Jackie Robinson story with Robinson at the plate with a catcher and umpire
Film still from The Jackie Robinson Story showing Jackie Robinson (as himself) at bat, with catcher and umpire behind the plate

Jackie Robinson: Remembering Number 42 with Primary Sources

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Baseball still holds a special place in the culture of the United States. As this year’s season opened around the nation’s capital, we began to see more and more people wearing baseball caps, shirts and jackets with their team’s favorite logo.

Though baseball has been a part of the culture of the United States for many years, not all were allowed to play in the major leagues. The Library of Congress timeline “Baseball, the Color Line and Jackie Robinson” documents the history of minority involvement in baseball, including April 15, 1947, the day Jackie Robinson broke the color line established in 1887.

In spite of abuse from both baseball fans and other teams, as well as threats against him and his family, Robinson played for ten seasons with the Brooklyn (later Los Angeles) Dodgers, had a lifetime batting average of .311, and helped the Dodgers win the National League pennant several times. In 1955, he helped them win the World Series. His number 42 was permanently retired by the Major Leagues in 1997.

The Primary Source Set Baseball Across a Divided Society provides a teaching guide and easy access to primary sources including images, sheet music and an early Edison film to help students learn more about baseball and its role in various communities in the United States.

  • Compare the image of the baseball team from the US Naval Academy to the image of students from the Morris Brown College baseball team. What are the similarities and differences between the pictures?
  • Students should read Branch Rickey’s speech for the “One Hundred Percent Wrong Club” where he discusses why he decided to bring an African American player into the major leagues. In it he describes the type of man he needed to break the color line. Why do your students think Jackie Robinson fit Rickey’s description?
  • Students can study the timeline “Baseball, the Color Line and Jackie Robinson” and add other events that were taking place at the same time as those on the timeline. What parallels do they see? Ask them to consider how national and world events affected baseball.

The Library of Congress has other baseball related resources online including, of course, statistics! Explore  Baseball Cards, 1887-1914  and Spalding Baseball Guides for primary sources that can be used to support math activities.

Ask your students why Jackie Robinson breaking the color line in baseball had importance beyond the baseball field. Let us know in the comments how they responded and what questions they had.


Comments (9)

  1. I use the Baseball Across a Divided Society Primary Source set a lot, particularly with undergraduate students. Since many of my students play sports, they understand that reliance on diverse teammates make the whole team successful. I also use it as an icebreaker – for new users of primary source and as learners get to know each other. A fine collection!

  2. I was a movie extra for the filming of 42 in Macon, Georgia. I was a reporter. I worked nine days. It was interesting how they filmed the events.

    I was only seven years old when this historic event happened; however I am aware that Jackie Robinson was a trend setter and a great person. He set the standard and our Nation will never be the same again.
    Thank Goodness!!!!

  3. thanks so much this website help me on my history project

  4. Jackie Robinson was an amazing inspiration on my love of baseball he was an amazing player and i am glad we had someone like him

  5. This was a good source I like baseball and I have to do a stupid project for school and I have to have 25 sources so this helped me out

  6. this source helped me out because i have this pain in the butt NHD project for school that needs six sources and two have to be books two are primary and two have to be secondary sources thanks.

  7. This is so helpful I encourage you to use it to.

  8. this was helpful

  9. this was the best website ever and i truly learned everything about this man. he is now today a big inspiration on playing baseball

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