When most of us think about Jackie Robinson, it's in the context of his breaking the color barrier by becoming the first African American man to play major league baseball, joining the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Jackie was a great baseball player, and I have that on authority of everyone I knew growing up in Brooklyn who remembered the day the Dodgers won the 1955 World Series. They say there literally was dancing in the streets that day. But baseball wasn't the first time Jackie challenged segregation's accepted status quo.
In The United States v. Jackie Robinson, Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen looks past his life as a Dodger, and focuses on his early experiences growing up in segregated Pasadena, California and, later, his life in the United States Army.
As a boy in Pasadena, Jackie's mother Mallie had taught her children to stand up for what was right, even if that was difficult to do. Mallie lived by example, refusing to be bullied out of the white neighborhood the Robinson had moved into. Jackie loved sports and was a great athlete in school, and as his parents had hoped, he was recruited to play for UCLA. And although he was a one of the country's most successful college athletes, people still saw him as a black man, including his teammates and coach. Discouraged that only white players could become professional athletes, Jackie left college and joined the army when the United States entered WWII.
And it was in the army that Jackie faced his greatest challenge. It turned out that the army was no different for Jackie than Pasadena and college had been. When he joined up, the army was still segregated, and Jackie was forced to deal with discrimination every day. When he tried to join the baseball team, he was told in no uncertain terms that he could only play on the 'colored team' which simply did not exist.
Then, in 1944, the army was ordered to end segregation on all military posts and buses. So, when Jackie sat in the middle of an army bus and refused to move to the back when the white driver demanded that he do so, it was Jackie who was arrested and who faced a court-martial. Like his mother, Jackie stood up for what was right, and after five hours of testimony by different people, he received a not-guilty verdict.
Bardhan-Quallen presents Jackie Robinson's early life clearly and concisely, making it fully accessible in this picture book for older readers. She has not only captured Jackie's learned sense of justice and fair play, but also the fact that changing laws doesn't change people's learned prejudices, as readers will see in the book. And while this may be a work of historical nonfiction, the message in it will resonate in today's world. Nevertheless, kids will certainly discover a hero in Jackie Robinson, a courageous man who lived life with quiet dignity and integrity coupled with a firm belief in standing up for what is right.
R. Gregory Christie's straightforward acryla gouache illustrations also reflect the quiet dignity of Jackie Robinson's life, and they also carry their own powerful message to the reader.
Bardhan-Quallen has included a timeline of both Jackie's life and events that impacted it. She also has an important Author's Note for understanding what the times were like during Jackie's life, and a Bibliography for further exploration.
The United States v. Jackie Robinson is an inspiring depiction of this lesser known episode in Jackie Robinson's life.
This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was purchased for my personal library