Jackie Robinson, 1957

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Photograph courtesy of The Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University

1957 the brittle crack of a bat connecting with a fastball is as much a sure sign of spring as forsythia blooming and robins chirping. No matter how cold it may be, Opening Day — it’s April 5 this year as the Tigers tangle with the Yankees at Comerica Park — is a ritual for die-hard fans. Among baseball’s great players from its storied past is Jackie Robinson, pictured here at the NAACP’s national convention, held in Detroit in June 1957. A decade earlier, as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Robinson became the first African-American since the 19th century to play in the major leagues. Other teams followed suit, but it took some clubs a painfully long time; the Detroit Tigers were the penultimate team in the majors to bring a black player on board. In 1958, the Tigers signed Ozzie Virgil, who hailed from the Dominican Republic. The Boston Red Sox were the last to integrate, in 1959. Robinson, who posted a lifetime batting average of .311, retired from baseball in January 1957, but served on the board of the NAACP until 1967 and was particularly involved in the organization’s Freedom Fund drive. He also served as a vice president of the Chock Full O’ Nuts coffee company, and in 1964 co-founded the Freedom National Bank. A year before this photo was taken, Robinson was honored with the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal; in 1957, it was awarded to Martin Luther King Jr. at Ford Auditorium in Detroit. Jack Roosevelt Robinson was inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1962 and died in 1972, a quarter-century after breaking baseball’s color barrier. He was 53.

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