April 15, 1947: Jackie Robinson breaks the “baseball color line”.
Professional American baseball was established in 1869, four years after the end of the Civil War; while African-Americans did have their own clubs and professional leagues, Major League Baseball was de facto segregated from its founding until 1946 (non-whites had previously played in the MLB, however), when Jackie Robinson, a Georgian and a Negro League baseball player, signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Robinson played his first game with the Dodgers on April 15, 1947, at Ebbets Field in front of a crowd of 26,000, over half of whom were black. Robinson received torrents of racist hatred and resentment from spectators, from opposing teams, and from even his own teammates. When Robinson, who had once been court-martialed during his time as an army officer for refusing to move to the back of a bus asked Branch Rickey, “are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?” Rickey famously responded that he was looking for a player “with guts enough not to fight back”. Robinson’s first step toward the integration of Major League Baseball was neither smooth nor simple - Robinson was heckled with slurs and even injured while playing, he and his family were met with death threats and violence, and some of his own teammates refused to play alongside a black player (though others, like Pee Wee Reese and Hank Greenberg defended Robinson). But his debut was a monumental moment in baseball history; in 1948, 1951, and 1956, baseball greats like Satchel Paige, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron all signed with major league teams.
In 1962, Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. His jersey number, 42, has since been retired by all Major League Baseball teams. Later in his life, he served on the board of directors of the NAACP, supported the SCLC and CORE, and worked to promote civil rights - writing that he wouldn’t “‘have it made’ until the most underprivileged Negro in Mississippi can live in equal dignity with anyone else in America.”
Greatest Olympic Moments: Kerri Strug, Atlanta, 1996.
The American women’s gymnastics team of that year’s Olympic Games was known as the “Magnificent Seven”; together in Atlanta, this diverse group defeated Russia and Romania to capture the country’s first ever gold medal for the team competition. One member of the seven - Kerri Strug - injured her ankle during her first vault attempt, but she returned (limping) to the runway for a second attempt and stuck the landing briefly, before her injury caught up to her. Thanks in part to her resilience, her team clinched the gold, denying the Russians the medal for the first time since 1948; Strug, meanwhile, had to be carried to the podium.
Clips from here.
Greatest Olympic Moments: Bob Beamon, Mexico City, 1968.
So incredible was Bob Beamon’s long jump (8.90 meters, or 29 feet and 2.5 inches) that the athlete himself collapsed and broke down after realizing that he had shattered the previous record by nearly two feet. His world record stood until twenty-three years later, when it was broken in Tokyo, but to this day, Beamon’s “perfect jump” remains the Olympic record.
A video of the feat.
Greatest Olympic Moments: Wilma Rudolph, Rome, 1960.
Wilma Rudolph was born premature (weighing 4.5 pounds), the 20th of 22 children, and as a child she suffered from all sorts of illnesses. The most severe of these was infantile paralysis, which rendered her left leg and foot useless and twisted and required her to wear a brace until age nine. At the 1960 Rome Olympics, Rudolph tied one world record and set another, eventually taking home three gold medals. Thereafter, she was known internationally as “the fastest woman in the world”.
Greatest Olympic Moments: Jesse Owens, Berlin, August 1936.
In August of 1936, American athlete Jesse Owens won four gold medals, setting three world records and tying a fourth in the 100 yard dash - all in front of Adolf Hitler, who had planned to use the Games as a tool to promote the physical superiority of the Aryan race.
The Olympic Games: 1896 - 2012.