Today marks the 66th anniversary of the day Branch Rickey met with Jackie Robinson to talk about breaking the color barrier in the major leagues.
America in 1945 was much different than it is today. Despite waging a brutal war against Nazi Germany, who subjugated and annihilated a complete class of people because of their race and religion, America treated it’s black citizens in much the same way. This moral contradiction between what America said it stood for and the way it was actually organized was most clearly articulated at the time by the eminent sociologist Gunnar Myrdal in An American Dilemma, published in 1944. The thesis of his book was that a terrible tension existed in American society between our professed ideals of equality and fairness based on individual merit and the reality of harsh, suffocating exclusion and oppression based on skin color.
Branch Rickey was the president of the Brooklyn Dodgers and began his quest for integration in 1943. He confided his plan to George V. MacLaughlin, his banker, the president of the Brooklyn Trust Company, which essentially held a mortgage on the team. MacLaughlin supported the idea, although not without some anxiety. He told Rickey that for this bold plan to work, he would have to find a black player who was better than the other players.
Rickey, who said “Luck is the residue of design”, was a master strategist whose ultimate goal was to win baseball games and to increase the fan base. He began an extensive search for the right man. By mid-1945, Rickey had narrowed his search and begun to focus on Robinson. He thought the young man was talented enough as an athlete and liked the fact that Robinson was educated and abstained from alcohol. Robinson’s temperament both attracted and worried Rickey. His refusal to buckle under to discrimination and strength of character were exactly what Rickey wanted. But Robinson’s explosive aggressiveness concerned Rickey: while it fueled his athletic performance, it also made him vulnerable to being provoked by the intense racism he was sure to experience as the first black to play in the major leagues. Rickey strongly believed that it would be necessary for Robinson to contain himself if the experiment was to succeed.
On August 28, 1945, at Dodgers headquarters at 215 Montague Place in Brooklyn, Rickey met with Robinson for the first time.
“For three hours, Rickey harangued Robinson … graphically illustrating the difficulties Robinson might face. He portrayed the hostile teammate, the abusive opponent, the insulting fan, the obstinate hotel clerk. Rickey challenged the black man with racial epithets and verbally transplanted him into ugly confrontations. “His acting was so convincing that I found myself chain-gripping my fingers behind my back,” wrote Robinson.” “In the face of this onslaught Robinson finally responded, “Mr. Rickey, do you want a ballplayer who’s afraid to fight back?” [Rickey] had awaited this moment. “I want a player with guts enough not to fight back,” he roared.”
As we all know now, the arrival of Jackie Robinson on the Dodgers changed not only the baseball world, but also America itself.
This Day in Dodgers History
August 28, 1945 – A moment in American history takes place in Brooklyn as Branch Rickey meets with Jackie Robinson to share his plans to integrate the major leagues. During the three hour meeting, the Dodgers’ president will shout racial epithets to ‘test’ the 26-year old ballplayer’s mettle to withstand the abuse which will come with being the first player to cross the color line this century.