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The role of Jackie Robinson in sports and the political life of the United States is hard to underestimate. Historians contend that Robinson reached his success far beyond baseball and prepared a ground for the coming Civil Rights Movement. The book by Thomas Zeiler not only depicts Robinson as a pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement but also investigates why and how American society of the twentieth century was that much affected by the racial integration of professional baseball. Zeiler presents the achievements of the first black baseball player of the Major League in the historical context of race relations and struggle for racial equality in the United States of the twentieth century. Moreover, the book with its collection of documents explores Jackie Robinson’s contribution to racial integration in American sports and society.
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The integration of baseball belongs to the most widely commented on episodes in American race relations. Despite the war emergency, President Roosevelt supported the integration of baseball presenting it as a symbol of American stability in an uncertain world. The campaign of baseball integration was associated with the fight against racism. However, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis refused to act and closed the issue of baseball integraion. When Landis died, the new commissioner announced that it was time to overcome the color barrier (Zeiler, 2013, p. 15). Additionally, the law prohibiting color discrimination in employment was passed together with the creation of the Mayor’s Committee on Baseball aimed at investigating racial segregation in the American national game. Still, baseball integration was again marked by the social tradition of prejudice.
In early 1945, the society and policy makers were concerned with the problematic integration of baseball. They did not understand why the color of the skin played an important role in the attitude towards American citizens. Coming at the end of World War II, Americans liberally accepted the news of the first black participating in Organized Baseball to contrast themselves to Nazi Germany and its Master Race. Of course, supporting conservative attitude towards black people in American society, its majority was against the blacks’ joining the Major Baseball League. Nevertheless, the process was inevitable. Moreover, the Americans as a democratic nation decided to give a chance to a talented person of any size and background, who might bring benefits to the national sports interests on the highest professional level.
The domestic American race politics as well as the lesssened resistance to the demands of the Civil Rights Movement were affected by the Cold War too (Zeiler, 2013). However, during this period, baseball integration was less involved in the political life of the country. Harry Truman initiated the President’s Committee on Civil Rights in December 1946. The committee intended to combat racial inequality as well as voting discrimination and provide economic aid (Zeiler, 2013, p. 28). Regarding baseball, the game became a more effective weapon of propaganda during this period. It was no longer the struggle for racial equality in the American national sport, but rather an effective political instrument of the race for power. The fact that baseball was a team sport made racial integration of the game the powerful social and cultural event. However, in practice, persistent discrimination against black players still existed. They had less and fewer lucrative commercial endorsements in comparison with their white counterparts.
To conclude, in terms of baseball integration World War II was supposed to be the starting point for the American national game to become racially equal. In contrast to World War II, the period of the Cold War was characterized by the struggle for power and electorate, rather than concern about racial discrimination in the USA.
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