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Jackie Robinson As A Civil Rights Activist

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Category: History Other

Autor: anton 10 December 2010

Words: 2002 | Pages: 9

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 Rights activist transformed from disagreement with Government action in the Eisenhower administration to accepting in the Presidency of John F. Kennedy. Rather than beginning his letter with an attack like he did in the Eisenhower letter, Jackie begins the letter to Kennedy with a statement of admiration: “I believe I now understand and appreciate better your role in the continuing struggle to fulfill the American promise of equal opportunity for all.”7 This statement is far different from any that was present in the letter to Eisenhower. The same man who wrote with disappointment in Government action three years prior, begins this letter with complements towards the President. Jackie's pleasure derives from President Kennedy's idea of rapid American progression in racial equality. Kennedy ordered the cease of African American lockouts at University of Mississippi as well as secured the rapid release of Martin Luther King from jail in 1960.8 Although Jackie was in favor of President Kennedy's actions he refrained from being complacent. In the second paragraph he writes, “The direction you seem to be going indicates America is in for great leadership, and I will be most happy if my fears continue to be proven wrong.”9 This portion of the letter exemplifies Jackie's cognizance that the situation can lose progression. He knows that the African American struggle for equality is succeeding, however, he remains doubtful and is in favor of himself being proven wrong. The failure to become complacent is incorporated into the conclusion of his letter when he writes, “I thank you for what you have done so far, but it is not how much has been done but how much there is to do. I would like to be patient Mr. President, but patients has caused us years of struggle for human dignity.”10 This quotation comes from a true leader. Jackie Robinson is conveying the attitude that every African American should personify in order to obtain the freedoms that other Americans enjoy. Jackie's persuasive techniques are much more positive in this document than in the previous letter to President Eisenhower and contributed to President Kennedy's proposition of the basis for legislation that would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibited segregation in any school and public places.11

As Jackie continued to age, his position as a Civil Rights activist continued to change as well. In his final letter to a United States President Jackie strays from challenging the Executive Branch and begins to support the political decisions made by President Lyndon Johnson. Jackie's embrace of the President is apparent in the 1967 letter as he begins the opening paragraph, “First let me thank you for pursuing a course towards Civil Rights that no President in our history has pursued. I am confident that your decision will not only continue, but will be accelerated dependent on the needs of all Americans.”12 Jackie's attitude towards President Johnson is similar to his support of President Kennedy's policy in that he believes that both are making positive strides to promote racial equality. However, Jackie's approach in the Johnson letter differs from the Kennedy letter through his showing of complete confidence in President Johnson. In the letter to President Kennedy, Jackie supports the political action taken, but he remains skeptical that the progression will continue. His full confidence in President Johnson arises through an increase in experience and maturity as a Civil Rights activist. At the time this letter was written, it is 1967 and Jackie is nearly fifty years old. Like the majority of people, as age increases, perspectives change and people become less outspoken. Jackie fits into this assumption because he sees President Johnson's success and instead of giving criticism for what the President is not doing, he gives complete support.

Jackie Robinson's wise persuasive tactics are also present towards the end of the letter. In the third paragraph he writes, “...that your position will not change toward the rights of all people; that you will continue to press for justice for all Americans and that a strong stand now will have great effect upon young Negro Americans who could resort to violence unless they are reassured.”13 The ultimatum that Jackie incorporates is very effective in ensuring that the struggle for freedom will continue. He is no longer looking at his own generation. He changes his focus to the future of America and the violent repercussions that will emerge if suppression continues. Jackie's efforts to inspire change during the Johnson administration did not go unrewarded. During his time in office, President Johnson passed the Voting Rights Act which allotted African Americans increased freedoms in expressing their opinion in politics as well as appointing the first African American to the Supreme Court as a council.14

Within the context of the letters he wrote to United States' Presidents, Jackie Robinson used different tones and persuasive techniques to transpose his beliefs into the Executive Branch of the government. Although his name is not one of the first that comes out of the mouths out the public when speaking of famous activists, in conjunction with his impact on the sporting world, Jackie was one of the most influential Americans in pushing for racial equality. His courageous efforts, which inspired Americans to refrain from ignorance and embrace their peers, will always be remembered as a defining moment in American history.

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