On April 15, 1947, 26,623 fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Braves filed into Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field for Opening Day. Few in the crowd suspected that they would be witnesses of history.

In the Dodger’s dressing room, a rookie named Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson put on his #42 jersey and prepared to take the field for the first time.

But Jackie Robinson was unlike any other rookie.

When he took up his position at first base in the top of the first inning, he became the first African-American to play Major League Baseball since 1884. The color barrier that MLB had for six decades was finally broken.

Upon breaking into the big leagues, Robinson went 0-3 but scored a run. The Dodgers defeated the Braves 5-3; the game of baseball and the entire country would never be the same.

The first season for Robinson was rough because he was subjected to racial slurs and death threats in almost every city he played in. Robinson persevered through it all, laying the foundation for modern basbeball where players are judged solely on athletic talent and not because of the color of their skin. Were it not for Jackie Robinson, there might never have been Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente and other greats who were of a minority heritage.

Jackie Robinson’s success in MLB was the first step in the Civil Rights movement and came a year before the U.S. Military was integrated, seven years before the U.S. Supreme Court made segregated schools illegal, eight years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus and 16 years before Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech in Washington, D.C.

In honor of the contribution that Jackie Robinson made to baseball and the nation, MLB retired #42 across the league on April 15, 1997. Now, every year on that day, MLB players wear #42 on their jerseys instead of their individual numbers.

It has become an annual celebration of the life of a pioneer of the Civil Rights movement.

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