Civil Rights After Baseball: The Presidential Responses to Jackie Robinson

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
One or Two 45 minute class periods
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
This will be a technology-based, analysis, assignment that will focus on primary source documents of President Truman's viewpoints on race and letters that Brooklyn Dodgers Hall-of-Famer Jackie Robinson wrote to former Presidents.

This will be a technology-based, analysis, assignment that will focus on primary source documents of President Truman’s viewpoints on race and letters that Brooklyn Dodgers Hall-of-Famer Jackie Robinson wrote to former Presidents, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon advocating for advancements of Civil Rights in American society.

Rationale (why are you doing this?)
  • According to the U.S. National Archives and Administration Association:   Robinson, proud of being black, challenged racial pretensions throughout his life. As a child he fought with rocks against taunting neighbors; as an adolescent he went to jail for a traffic altercation involving a white motorist; and as a college star in four sports, he took no guff from race-baiting competitors. As an Army lieutenant, he so resisted efforts to make him move to the back of a southern bus that he eventually faced court-martial proceedings (where he was found innocent); and as a ball player, he railed against teams and individuals he believed to be racist. This vigilance against racial wrongdoing was a legacy he wanted to pass on to his children--to be willing to stand up for what they believed and to       lawfully press for their rights as full-fledged Americans who happened to be black.
  • Students only see Jackie Robinson as a black, baseball player. They know he endures a lot during his playing days thanks especially to such films as 42 by Brian Helgeland. However, students need to see that he was even more active in Civil Rights for groups of people after his playing days by speaking out about pros and cons on issues such as the escalation of Civil Rights for African-Americans over time and the Vietnam War. Likewise, Presidents such as Harry S. Truman will be viewed on race-relations during their respective time periods.
Lesson Objectives - the student will
  • The student will be able to understand the relationships between Robinson and some of our former Presidents concerning Civil Rights.
  • The student will be able to understand the changing social landscape in the United States from the 1940s through the 1970s.
  • The student will be able to evaluate not only Jackie Robinson as a baseball player, but his strong character off the baseball diamond.
District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met

Social Studies Grade - and Course-Level Expectations 2.0 for the State of Missouri

  • Analyze the evolution of American democracy, its ideas, institutions, and political processes from Reconstruction to the present including: 2. Struggle for Civil Rights SS3 1.6, 1.9
  • Explain the importance of the following principles of government since Reconstruction 2. Constitution and civil rights SS3 1.10
  • Describe and evaluate the evolution of United States domestic and foreign policies from Reconstruction to the present, including 7. Cold War SS3 1.6, 1.9, 3.5, 3.6
  • Describe the changing character of American society and culture (i.e., arts and literature, education and philosophy, religion and values, and science and technology SS3 1.9, 1.10
  • Compare and contrast the major ideas and beliefs of different cultures SS6 1.6
  • Analyze how the roles of class, ethnic, racial, gender and age groups have changed in society, including causes and effects SS6 1.6
  • Predict the consequences that can occur when: 1. Institutions fail to meet the needs of individuals and groups 2. Individuals fail to carry out their personal responsibilities SS6 3.1
  • Determine the causes, consequences, and possible resolutions of cultural conflicts SS6 3.6
Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed
  • The film 42 by Brian Helgeland

The story of Jackie Robinson from his signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers organization in 1945 to his historic 1947 rookie season when he broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball.

  • Tygiel, Jules. Baseball’s Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy. Expanded ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.                                                                                               This book describes one of the most important steps in the history of American desegregation, Tygiel tells the story of Jackie Robinson’s crossing of baseball’s color line. Examining the social and historical context of Robinson’s introduction into white organized baseball, both on and off the field and how he helped transform our national pastime into an integrated game. Drawing on dozens of interviews with players and front office executives, contemporary newspaper accounts, and personal papers, Tygiel provides the most telling and insightful account of Jackie Robinson’s influence on American baseball and society.
  • Taylor, Jon E. Freedom to Serve: Truman, Civil Rights, and Executive Order 9981 (Critical Moments in American History) New York: Routledge, 2013.

      Taylor traces the development of civil rights policy in the American military from the World War II era  

       to the present, focusing on the civil rights campaigns that pressured the Franklin D. Roosevelt and      

      Truman administrations for faster and greater change.

Primary sources needed (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, etc.) needed

Jackie Robinson continued to champion the cause of civil rights after he left baseball. Having captured the attention of the American public in the ballpark, he now delivered the message that racial integration in every facet of American society would enrich the nation, just as surely as it had enriched the sport of baseball. Every American President who held office between 1956 and 1972 received letters from Jackie Robinson expressing varying levels of rebuke for not going far enough to advance the cause of civil rights. Indifferent to party affiliation and unwilling to compromise, he measured a President’s performance by his level of commitment to civil rights. Robinson’s stand was firm and nonnegotiable. The letters reveal the passionate and, at times, combative spirit with which Robinson worked to remove the racial barriers in American society.

  • Congressional Record. 76th Cong. 3rd sess, 1940, 86 pt. 16: 4546-4547. Truman’s “Brotherhood of Man” speech from July 25, 1940, in Sedalia, Missouri. Taken from Taylor, Jon E. Freedom to Serve: Truman, Civil Rights, and Executive Order 9981 (Critical Moments in American History) New York: Routledge, 2013. (Document 1 – Attached)

On May 22, 1939, Thomas Pendergast, the patriarch of the Pendergast machine, pled guilty to charges of income tax evasion and was sentenced to fifteen months at Fort Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. Truman, to distance himself from the political machine, went on a new campaign strategy and made a speech at the dedication of “Sedalia’s City Hospital No. 2 for Negroes” on July 25, 1940. The “brotherhood of man” speech was bold language for a Southerner like Truman to use in his Senate campaign supporting Civil Rights

On June 29, 1947, Harry Truman became the first President to address the NAACP on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial live on radio. In the speech, Truman advocates in his speech deep changes that needed to take place to combat racial discrimination and the promotion of civil rights and liberties.

Truman moved ahead on civil rights by using his executive powers. Among other things, Truman bolstered the civil rights division, appointed the first African American judge to the Federal bench, named several other African Americans to high-ranking administration positions, and most important, on July 26, 1948, he issued an executive order abolishing segregation in the armed forces and ordering full integration of all the services. Executive Order 9981 stated, "there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed forces without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin." The order also established an advisory committee to examine the rules, practices, and procedures of the armed services and recommend ways to make desegregation a reality. There was considerable resistance to the executive order from the military, but by the end of the Korean conflict, almost all the military was integrated.

Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?
  • Optional - take 2-3 class periods and show the film 42 to the class and have a brief discussion each day on the growth of Jackie Robinson’s character as a person during his rookie season.
  • Explain to the students that they will be analyzing primary source documents concerning both President Harry S. Truman and Jackie Robinson’s viewpoints on Civil Rights for all people.
  • Students should each be given an Ipad for this activity to conserve paper. If Ipads are unavailable, a computer lab will suffice. If a computer lab is not available, each of the 12 documents will need to be copied and handed out to the groups of students. Copy locations of primary source documents can be found in the primary source documents portion of this lesson plan.
  • Group students into differentiated groups of 4 students in each group. Each of the four students will be responsible for analyzing 3 of the 12 documents for this activity. Teachers or students should pick out which documents they will be analyzing from the list below:

Document 1: President Truman Speech at  “Sedalia’s City Hospital No. 2 for Negroes” on July 25, 1940 (attached)

Document 2: President Truman Address Before the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on June 29, 1947

Document 3: President Truman’s Executive Order #9981 July 26, 1948   

Document 4: Jackie Robinson Telegram to the White House August 13, 1957

Document 5: Jackie Robinson Letter to President Eisenhower May 13, 1958

Document 6: Jackie Robinson Draft letter from Vice-President Nixon November 4, 1960

Document 7: Jackie Robinson Letter to President Kennedy February 9, 1961

Document 8: Jackie Robinson Telegram to President Kennedy June 15, 1963

Document 9: Jackie Robinson Photograph August 28, 1963

Document 10: Jackie Robinson Telegram to President Johnson March 9, 1965

Document 11: Jackie Robinson Letter to President Johnson April 18, 1967

Document 12: Jackie Robinson Letter to the White House April 20, 1972