42 Facts About Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier on April 15, 1947.
Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier on April 15, 1947. / Kidwiler Collection/GettyImages

On January 31, 1919, Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia. Twenty-eight years later, on April 15, 1947, he broke the baseball color line and became the first African American to play on a major sports team. Here are 42 facts to celebrate the legendary athlete.

1. Jackie Robinson was born in Georgia but raised in California.

Jack "Jackie" Roosevelt Robinson was born on January 31, 1919, in Cairo, Georgia. Shortly after his birth, his family moved and settled in Pasadena, California.

2. He was named after Teddy Roosevelt.

Young Jackie Robinson
Young Jackie Robinson. / Hulton Archive/GettyImages

President Theodore Roosevelt, who died 25 days before Robinson was born, was the inspiration for his middle name.

3. He was the youngest of five children.

Jackie was the youngest of five children—Edgar, Frank, Matthew “Mack,” and Willa Mae—and a little over a year after his birth, Robinson's mother moved the family to Pasadena.

4. In high school, Jackie Robinson played on a baseball team with other future Hall of Famers Ted Williams and Bob Lemon.

Robinson attended John Muir High School, where he was placed on the Pomona Annual Baseball Tournament All-Star Team with fellow future MLB Hall of Famers Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox and Bob Lemon of the Cleveland Indians (now Cleveland Guardians).

5. He was an accomplished tennis player, too.

He was also a successful tennis player, winning the junior boys singles championship in the Pacific Coast Negro Tennis Tournament.

6. His brother was a silver medal-winning Olympic athlete.

Jackie’s brother Mack was an adept athlete and a splendid sprinter. He won a silver medal in the 200 meters behind Jesse Owens during the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany.

7. He served in the Army during World War II.

In 1942, Jackie Robinson was drafted into the Army. He was assigned to a segregated Army Cavalry unit in Fort Riley, Kansas.

8. He was stationed with boxing champion Joe Louis during World War II.

While in the Army, Robinson became friends with boxing champion Joe Louis when the heavyweight, who was stationed at Fort Riley at the time, used his celebrity to protest the delayed entry of Black soldiers into an Officer Candidate School (OCS). As a result, Robinson was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1943.

9. He was arrested and court-martialed for refusing to move to the back of an unsegregated bus ...

After an incident where he refused to sit in the back of an unsegregated bus, military police arrested Robinson at the request of a duty officer, who later requested Robinson be court-martialed. At the time of the proceedings, Robinson was prohibited from being deployed overseas to the World War II battlefronts. He never saw combat during the war.

10. ... and was eventually given an honorable discharge.

Jackie Robinson
The Robinson family home. / Hulton Archive/GettyImages

Robinson was acquitted and then assigned to Camp Breckinridge in Kentucky, where he worked as an Army athletics coach until he was given an honorable discharge in 1944. During his time at the camp, Robinson was encouraged to try out for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro National League.

11. Jackie Robinson played in the 1945 Negro League All-Star Game.

In 1945, Robinson signed a contract to play for the Kansas City Monarchs. He was paid $400 a month (about $5100 today) to play shortstop and eventually was placed in the Negro League All-Star Game that year.

12. He married his college sweetheart.

Robinson married Rachel Isum—whom he had met in 1941 during his senior year at UCLA—in 1946. They had their first son, Jackie Robinson Jr., that November. The Robinsons had two more children: a daughter, Sharon, and another son, David.

13. He played in the Montreal Royals' minor league.

Robinson played minor league baseball for the Montreal Royals in 1946, until he was called up to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the major leagues in 1947.

14. Jackie Robinson made his MLB debut at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field.

Spider Jorgensen, Pee Wee Reese, Eddie Starkey, Jackie Robinson
Jackie Robinson on the Brooklyn Dodgers. / Sports Studio Photos/GettyImages

He made his major league baseball debut on April 15, 1947, at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, New York. He became the first African American baseball player in major league history.

15. Jackie Robinson was 1947's Rookie of the Year.

He also won Rookie of the Year in 1947 with a batting average of .297, 175 hits, 12 home runs, and 48 runs batted in.

16. He was close friends with Larry Doby, who was the first African American baseball player in the American League.

Jackie Robinson had a close friendship with Larry Doby of the Cleveland Indians, who was the first African American baseball player in the American League. The two men broke the color barrier in baseball in the same year and would talk to each other on the telephone to share their experiences with racism during the season.

17. Pee Wee Reese was one of Jackie Robinson's greatest champions.

Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese
Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese cover an issue of 'Sports Stars.' / Transcendental Graphics/GettyImages

Dodgers teammate Pee Wee Reese defended Robinson against violent and nasty racial slurs during his rookie season. Reese famously put his arm around him, a gesture of friendship that wasn't common for Robinson at the time. The moment has since been immortalized in art, statues, and movies.

18. Jackie Robinson hit for the cycle on August 29, 1948.

On August 29, 1948, in a 12-7 win against the St. Louis Cardinals, Robinson “hit for the cycle” with a home run, a triple, a double, and then a single in the same game.

19. He also stole a lot of bases ...

Robinson was the National League batting and stolen bases champion with a batting average of .342 and 37 stolen bases in 1949.

20. ... and was a regular All-Star.

He was also a six-time All-Star between the years 1949 and 1954.

21. He testified in front of the United States House of Representatives' Committee on Un-American Activities.

In 1949, Robinson was called to testify before the United States House of Representatives' Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC). He was subpoenaed because of comments made about him by prominent African American actor Paul Robeson. At first, Robinson was hesitant to testify, but then was ultimately compelled to do so because he feared not doing so would hurt his baseball career.

22. He was the National League's MVP in 1949.

The National League’s Most Valuable Player Award went to Robinson in 1949, after his first appearance in the MLB All-Star Game. Robinson later took his team to the World Series, but would lose against the New York Yankees.

23. He played himself in The Jackie Robinson Story.

Three Jackie Robinson Buttons
Three Jackie Robinson buttons. / The Frent Collection/GettyImages

Jackie Robinson played himself in The Jackie Robinson Story, a biopic about his life released in 1950. Academy Award-nominated actress Ruby Dee played Robinson’s wife, Rachel “Rae” Isum Robinson.

24. In the off-season, he traveled through the South on a vaudeville tour.

During the off-season, Robinson went on a vaudeville and speaking tour of the South, where he would answer pre-set questions about his life. He actually made more money on these tours than he did on his contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

25. He played in six World Series.

Robinson played in six World Series, but won only one in 1955 against the New York Yankees in a seven-game series. Robinson didn’t play in 49 games that season and missed game 7; Don Hoak played third base in Robinson’s place.

26. He quit baseball to take a job with Chock Full O' Nuts.

At 37, Robinson retired from major league baseball and the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956. Unbeknownst to the Brooklyn Dodgers, Robinson had taken a position with the American coffee company Chock Full O’ Nuts and agreed to quit baseball.

27. He was the first African American vice president of a major American corporation.

From 1957 to 1964, Jackie Robinson served as the vice president of personnel for Chock Full O’ Nuts coffee. He was the first African American vice president of a major American corporation.

28. He switched political party affiliations in the 1960s.

Jackie Robinson
Jackie Robinson switched political affiliations in the 1960s. / Sports Studio Photos/GettyImages

Robinson was a political independent, but had very conservative views on the Vietnam War. He also supported Richard Nixon in the 1960 presidential election against John F. Kennedy, although Robinson admired Kennedy’s stance on civil rights once he was elected. He was later dismayed with Republicans for not supporting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and soon after became a Democrat.

29. He was the first African American inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In 1962, Jackie Robinson was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame during his first year of eligibility. He was the first African American inducted into the Cooperstown, New York-based hall of fame and museum.

30. He was a towering figure of the Civil Rights Movement.

Jackie Robinson was always seen as a large figure in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said Robinson was “a legend and symbol in his own time” who “challenged the dark skies of intolerance and frustration.”

31. He co-founded Harlem's Freedom National Bank.

In 1964, Robinson co-founded the Freedom National Bank—a Black-owned and -operated bank in Harlem, New York—with businessman Dunbar McLaurin. Robinson was the commercial bank’s first chairman of the board. His wife later served as chair until 1990 when the bank closed.

32. He was television's first African American sports analyst.

Robinson was also the first African American MLB TV analyst. He broadcasted for ABC’s Major League Baseball Game of the Week telecasts in 1965. Robinson later worked as a part-time commentator for the Montréal Expos in 1972.

33. The Dodgers retired Jackie Robinson's uniform number in 1972.

Jackie Robinson
Jackie Robinson immortalized the number 42. / Robert Riger/GettyImages

On June 4, 1972, the Dodgers retired Jackie Robinson’s uniform number 42, as well as Sandy Koufax’s number 32 and Roy Campanella’s number 39.

34. Jackie Robinson passed away at the age of 53.

Robinson died of a heart attack on October 24, 1972 in Stamford, Connecticut, at age 53.

35. His widow, Rachel, started the Jackie Robinson Foundation in 1973.

In 1973, Rachel Robinson started the Jackie Robinson Foundation, a non-profit organization that offers college scholarships and career mentorship to students of color. The foundation also preserves the legacy of Jackie Robinson as a baseball player and civil rights pioneer.

36. His Brooklyn home was declared a landmark in 1976.

The house in Brooklyn, New York, where Jackie Robinson lived while he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976.

37. There's an asteroid named after him.

On March 1, 1981, American astronomer Schelte John “Bobby” Bus discovered an asteroid at the Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales, Australia. Bus named the asteroid “4319 Jackierobinson,” after his favorite baseball player.

38. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

President Ronald Reagan posthumously awarded Jackie Robinson the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the highest award given to a civilian for their contributions to world peace, culture, or other significant public or private endeavors—on March 26, 1984.

39. He also received the Congressional Gold Medal.

More than 20 years after he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, President George W. Bush also posthumously awarded Jackie Robinson the Congressional Gold Medal—the highest honor the legislative branch can bestow on a civilian and must be co-sponsored by two-thirds of members in the House and the Senate—for his contributions to American history. He became the second baseball player to receive this accolade after Pittsburgh Pirates right-fielder Roberto Clemente in 1973.

40. Jackie Robinson's number, 42, was retired throughout major league baseball.

You won't see any baseball players wearing the number 42: In 1997, Robinson’s number was retired throughout major league baseball. This was the first and only time a jersey number had been retired across an entire professional sports league.

41. He is a member of the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.

In 1999, Robinson was added to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team along with Cal Ripken Jr., Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, and Ty Cobb. Fans chose the final selections from a list compiled of the 100 greatest major league players from the past century.

42. April 15 is now Jackie Robinson Day.

Washington Nationals v Boston Red Sox
Every player in Major League Baseball wears 42 on Jackie Robinson Day. / Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/GettyImages

As of 2004, April 15 is celebrated as Jackie Robinson Day, and all uniformed players in major league baseball wear number 42 on their jerseys to honor Robinson’s memory and legacy to the sport.

This article was originally published in 2019; it has been updated for 2022.