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Jackie Robinson As A Civil Rights Activist

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Jackie Roosevelt Robinson was born on January 31st 1919. In 1947, at the age of 28, Jackie became the first African American to break the “color line” of Major League Baseball when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers. During his tenure with the Dodgers, Jackie was not simply an average player. Among various other accolades, Mr. Robinson was a starter on six World Series teams as well as being named the National League Rookie of The Year in 1947. His advantageous career was then capped in 1962 when he was inducted in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.1 Contrary to popular belief, Jackie's perseverance in implementing racial integration extended beyond his career in Major League Baseball. During the Sixties Jackie Robinson was a key contributor in the civil rights movement and the struggle to gain equality for African Americans. He was an active member of the NAACP, an outspoken supporter of Martin Luther King, and an ardent writer to United States' Presidents. In his Presidential letters, Jackie's voice was most loudly heard and successfully interpreted through his varying writing tones and persuasive techniques.

Jackie Robinson's first letter was sent on May 13th 1958 to our thirty-fourth President, Dwight Eisenhower. The purpose of this letter stemmed from an incident which occurred in Little Rock, Arkansas. A year prior, Governor Orval Faubus, in an attempt to gain popularity amongst white voters, ordered national guardsmen to Little Rock Central High School to restrict all African American students from entering. Segregation in Arkansas public high schools was outlawed by the Supreme Court in 1954 thus making the Governor's action illegal. President Eisenhower responded to the situation by sending Federal Troops to the location to protect the black students as they attended their classes.2 Jackie Robinson was very pleased with President Eisenhower's decision, but became increasingly frustrated as the President remained stagnant in using his power to ensure African American freedoms. This is a time in Jackie's life in which he is relatively young and fresh into his time in political activism. Consequentially, he writes with an outspoken voice that demands to be released from suppression. This voice is present in the opening paragraph of the letter where Jackie writes, “I was sitting in the audience in the Summit Meeting of Negro Leaders yesterday when you said we must have patients. On hearing you say this, I felt like standing up and saying, 'Oh no! Not again.'”3 The fact that he is attending important meetings illustrates his passion for racial equality. He is taking time out of his life to initiate change and convince leaders that they must make it a priority to act against segregation. By attending this meeting, Jackie is able to directly hear the President's reasons for delayed decision making and continue to push for positive change. It also gives him credibility in the eyes of the President. The President will listen to Jackie more thoroughly knowing of his activism.

Jackie's strong emotions towards segregation are presented in the exclamation that he incorporates at the end of the quotation. Jackie shows an endless amount of courage when using this form of speech. Dwight Eisenhower was known as a stern military President and using such informal language in a supposedly formal letter could have easily caused Eisenhower to disregard the letter and not listen to the message that Jackie was attempting to convey. Instead, because the exclamation was well incorporated and surrounded by affluent language, it was effective an effective form of persuasion.

Further down in the letter, Mr. Robinson continues his outspoken behavior by stating, “17 million Negroes cannot do what you suggested and wait for the hearts of men to change. We want to enjoy now the rights that we feel we are entitled to as Americans. That we cannot do unless we pursue aggressively goals which all other Americans achieved over 150 years ago.”4 This paragraph of the letter is the most persuasive and has the greatest chance to change the President's mind on the issue of segregation. Jackie incorporates the number of African Americans in the United States to explain how many Americans are striving for equality. Using the number, 17 million, Mr. Robinson injects much more power into his writing. He proves to the President that his desire for equality is far from being solitary and that his following will not cease without positive change. Jackie also shows significant power in the final two sentences of the quotation. Instead of posing questions and requesting answers, he tells the President the desires of the African American people and that they can no longer wait for future action; it must happen now. Another effective persuasive technique that Mr. Robinson adds into this paragraph is the allusion to the Constitution and the ideals that our country is founded on. He explains to the President that it is his duty to ensure true equality and that failure to do so would violate the Constitution.

As the letter to President Eisenhower continues, Jackie's voice becomes increasingly bold. The fourth paragraph of the letter begins, “As the Chief executive of our nation, I respectfully suggest that you unwittingly crush the spirit of freedom in Negros by constantly urging forbearance and give hope to those pro segregation leaders like Governor Faubus who would take from us even those freedoms that we now enjoy”.5 Jackie's accusation against the President regarding the government's bias towards segregation is his most extreme statement of the letter because President Eisenhower supported multiple pro-civil rights themed legislation acts including the Brown vs. The Board Of Education decision and the Civil Rights Act of 1957.6 This attack on the President, however, did not result in failure due to the incorporation of the words “respectfully” and “unwittingly”. Jackie's belief that the government inadvertently is supporting the Pro Segregationalists gives the President the option to create legislation that pushes for reform and guarantees freedom for African Americans. Jackie Robinson's letter to President Eisenhower is his first letter to a United States President as well as his most outspoken. However, his risks were rewarded two years later when President Eisenhower passed the Civil Rights Act of 1960 which imposed penalties for impeding anyone who is attempting to vote.

Jackie Robinson's position as a Civil



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