Jackie Robinson, WWII, and the Integration of Baseball

by Roberta McCutcheon

Background

In the 1940s America was in the throes of a crippling depression and a world war. While all Americans coped with the overwhelming challenges that the economy and war presented, some Americans faced an additional hardship, oppressive segregation. Legal segregation—Jim Crow as it was informally known, defined every aspect of life for those who lived under its restrictions. Popular culture, specifically professional baseball, was not excluded from the effects of Jim Crow. The story of the integration of professional baseball in the United States in 1947 is one chapter in the long battle to end segregation and one that warrants careful analysis. While it was a momentous step forward in race relations in the 1940s, it was also limited in its reach and not without cost. Using the classroom as a historical laboratory, students can use primary and secondary sources to research the event, examine motivations, and interpret one of the many struggles for racial equality and civil rights in the United States.

Objectives

  • Students will be able to create a model to be used to evaluate the validity of historical evidence.
  • Students will examine primary and secondary references to analyze the history of the integration of baseball both in the context of race relations in the twentieth century and against the background of World War II.
  • Students will be engaged in historical research and the critical analysis of factual evidence.
  • Students will examine historical facts in the documents to construct a biography of Jackie Robinson.
  • Students will be able to identify the major social and economic events in the post–World War II era as they were shaped by race, WWII, and postwar concerns.
  • Students will be engaged in historical research and the critical analysis of popular culture and events in this era.

Student Exercise One: Identify the historical context of the integration of baseball

Have the class research primary documents and secondary accounts of the era in order to set an accurate and inclusive context for this event.

Divide the class into small groups. Assign each group a specific area of research and the task of looking at each of the following websites. The topics should include Jim Crow, African Americans and the Great Depression, African Americans and the war, and segregated professional baseball leagues. Divide the following websites among the groups.

Each group should compile the information gleaned from the assigned document and evaluate the significance of their research.

Using the “jigsaw” approach to group work, shift the members of the groups so that each new group has a representative from each of the original groups. The task for these groups is to share their research.

As a class, consider all the information that has been discussed in the individual groups.

Have the class develop an annotated timeline of events that they identify as significant to a greater understanding of the story of the integration of baseball. This timeline should create a fully developed historical context.

Student Exercise Two: Panel Discussion

  1. Set up a panel discussion, using four to eight students. Topic: Why was Jackie Robinson chosen to integrate professional baseball and why in 1947?
  2. Have the class brainstorm some possible responses to the question.
  3. Select members of the panel and have them prepare an argument to present on the panel discussion.
  4. The remainder of the class should prepare for questions. This will require that they understand the issues and arguments thoroughly.

Student Exercise Three: Class Project

Write a children’s story about Jackie Robinson and the integration of professional baseball.

Extension Activity: Debate

Have the class research the primary and secondary documents about Paul Robeson and the HUAC hearings that occurred in the late 1940s. They should compile a list of questions to guide them through their reading. The questions should include the following:

  • Who is Paul Robeson?
  • What was the historical background for the hearings?
  • What was Jackie Robinson’s role in the HUAC hearings?
  • What was the impact of the hearings?

Have the class research the life of Paul Robeson. Useful sites are listed below

Paul Robeson

HUAC Hearing

Using the research, set up a debate using the following resolution:

Resolved: Jackie Robinson should NOT have testified against Paul Robeson before the House Un-American Committee

The format for the debate will depend on the size of the class.

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