DELAWARE, OH – On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson took the field in his first Major League Baseball game. History was made as he and Branch Rickey, president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, partnered to break the sport’s color barrier and set the stage for the U.S. civil rights movement.
Each year on April 15, Major League Baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson Day, honoring Robinson’s courage and lasting impact on America’s pastime. This year, Ohio Wesleyan University joins the celebration with the release of a new video telling the story of their collaboration and the incident in Rickey’s life that inspired him to risk everything to help integrate professional sports.
In 1903, Rickey was a student and baseball coach at Ohio Wesleyan, a private, liberal arts university in Delaware, Ohio. Rickey witnessed the despair of OWU player Charles Thomas, when Thomas was denied hotel lodging while traveling in South Bend, Indiana, with his white teammates. In Rickey’s words: “He looked at me and said, ‘It’s my skin. If I could just tear it off, I’d be like everybody else. It’s my skin; it’s my skin, Mr. Rickey!’ ” The moment changed Rickey’s life forever.
“My grandfather risked all,” Branch B. Rickey, president of Minor League Baseball’s Pacific Coast League and a 1967 Ohio Wesleyan graduate, says in the new OWU video. “He had a 40-year reputation built up for nothing. He was going to violate everything that the other 15 clubs had said he had to abide by.”
The younger Rickey adds: “In choosing what he did, it surpassed just the signing of a player. The depth of planning he went to, along with the closeness of the relationship and the trust he immediately came to have with Jackie, I think it’s a magnificent example of a partnership – people coming together to accomplish something so much greater and more enduring than the two could ever have thought or hoped to achieve individually.”
Jackie Robinson’s daughter, Sharon Robinson, says the moment when her father took the field was far more significant than many people realized at the time.
“Baseball wasn’t just a game,” she says in the video. “It was a symbol of America. When it changed, then people began to look at America differently.”
Ohio Wesleyan President Rock Jones, Ph.D., says the university is honored to have created this video and to play a role in sharing the Rickey-Robinson legacy with the world.
“This relationship is woven deeply into the fabric of Ohio Wesleyan,” Jones says. “It’s a part of the story that has grown out of this campus now for more than a century. We intend to tell the story because of the value that it has in shaping our students today for the lives that we want them to live beyond Ohio Wesleyan. … It’s an important part of our responsibility to share that story and to make that treasure known as widely as we can.”
For their combined courage, Rickey was posthumously honored by ESPN as the “Most Influential Sports Figure of the 20th Century,” and Robinson was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor Congress can award a civilian, in 2005.