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Jackie Robinson's Birthday: Remembering A Pioneer

Jackie Robinson   First Posted: 01/31/2012 3:05 pm Updated: 01/31/2012 3:40 pm

Jackie Robinson, who would have been 93 today, once said that "a life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives," Jackie Robinson said. By that measure, his own life was monumental.

In becoming the first African American to play Major League Baseball, he challenged racist assumptions about black inferiority and the logic for segregating the nation's pasttime.

After he walked away from the diamond — he won the National League MVP in 1949, and is considered one of the greatest second basemen ever — Robinson continued to be a pioneer. He was the first black commentator for a national sports broadcast, and the first black vice president of a major American firm.

"It was really amazing to wake up one day and find Jackie Robinson playing in Brooklyn," David Dinkins, the former mayor of New York City, told the New York Times in 1997. "It was a really big deal. I went to Brooklyn Law School because I was a Dodger fan."

"It's hard to imagine for this generation what it was like for a white boy in the late 1940s to have a black man as his idol," added Ira Glasser, who once ran the American Civil Liberties Union. "Where I lived in East Flatbush, you could walk for 10 blocks in any direction and not see anyone who wasn't white, maybe not even anyone who wasn't Jewish. Most of my friends were intense Dodger fans, and we had with the team a peculiarly intense relationship, and into that relationship comes Robinson."

"And on a team filled with heroes, he became a hero. On the empty lots where we played, when those lots transformed in our minds to the lush grass of Ebbets Field, we chose to be Jackie. We tried to incorporate everything about him into our styles. I had a friend who even wore his sneakers on the wrong feet to make him walk pigeon-toed."

Robinson's number, 42, was retired throughout Major League baseball in 1997.

Below, a look at Robinson's life:

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  • Jackie Of All Trades

    Robinson was a four-sport standout at UCLA -- starring track, baseball, football and basketball.

  • Robinson At UCLA

    Robinson on the practice field at UCLA.

  • In this 1949 photo, Branch Rickey, the president and part owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers (in hat), talks with Gil Hodges, Gene Hermanski and Jackie Robinson.

  • Robinson reclines after winning the National League MVP award in 1949.

  • Robinson with Althea Gibson, the first black woman to win a Grand Slam on the pro tennis circuit.

  • Robinson And "Sugar" Ray Robinson, 1963

    <em>Correction: An earlier caption incorrectly identified Ray Robinson as Cassius Clay (Muhammed Ali). We regret the error.</em>

  • Robinson At March On Washington, 1963

    Jackie Robinson, seated, listens to Harry Belafonte as he speaks at the March on Washington in 1963.

  • After Baseball

    After stepping away from baseball, Robinson became the vice president in charge of personnel at Chock Full of Nuts. He was the first African American to serve as vice president of a major American corporation.

  • Robinson And Ali

    Jackie Robinson meets with Muhammad Ali while he trains in 1963.

  • At Home With Rachel

    In this 1962 file photo, former baseball player Jackie Robinson and his wife, Rachel, pose in their Connecticut home in 1962.

  • Robinson in 1971

    Jackie Robinson looks pensive at his Stamford, Conn., home, in this June 30, 1971 file photo, as he discusses the death of his son Jack, Jr.