ORLANDO, Fla. – On April 15, 1947, at 28 years old, Jackie Robinson put on his first Brooklyn Dodgers uniform and stepped on to the diamond. He became the first Black player in modern baseball history and broke the major league baseball “color line.”
“Jackie Robinson was integrating baseball without a federal court order, so he was doing this heroically,” said Bill Schumann, historian of the Jackie Robinson Ballpark in Daytona Beach. “He was able to get on the field and perform under tremendous pressure. Back in 1947, and before that, Plessy V. Ferguson was the law. It was where racism was legislated in America, mostly in the South.”
Two years earlier, Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey signed Robinson to a minor league contract but bringing Robinson on board came with major criticism and backlash.
“The president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, he was a non-practicing lawyer, he understood the law and he was working hard to try to integrate baseball under very difficult standards,” Schumann said.
During spring training of 1946, Robinson was prohibited from playing in cities like DeLand and Sanford.
“All cities in the South in 1946... would not allow integrated baseball,” Schumann said.
Except Daytona Beach, where their ballpark was named in his honor.
On March 17, 1946, Robinson stepped onto the Daytona Beach ball field, making it the first city in the South to allow integrated baseball.
“Daytona Beach stood alone. It was much (to do with) Dr. Mary Mcleod Bethune and her politics, interracial politics, in Daytona Beach that helped open the door for Jackie Robinson,” according to Schumann. “Daytona Beach was the first city in the segregated South to ignore Plessy V. Ferguson and allowed integrated baseball.”
Robinson’s impact was felt on the field and off the field, where he worked for societal change along iconic civil rights activists, like Martin Luther King, Jr.
“The integration of baseball had a spillover effect very positively in America,” Schumann said. “He helped change the attitudes of America. He made people understand that racism was wrong, and he was a great American hero and still inspires people today.”