Teachers may use traditional assessment tools to measure students' understanding of this unit with a test after the unit's completion. Teachers may also require a demonstration of students' findings, such as a thematic presentation or slide show using tools available to them in the school computer lab or at home.
Learning Context/ Introduction
In this lesson, students draw on their previous studies of American history and culture as they analyze primary sources from Jackie Robinson and Other Baseball Highlights, 1860s - 1960s in American Memory. A close reading of two documents relating to Jackie Robinson's breaking of the racial barrier in professional baseball leads to a deeper exploration of racism in the United States, both in and out of sports.
Analyze primary documents closely
Research documents specific to the history of race relations in the mid-20th century United States
Draw conclusions moving from the specific documents to the broader society and text them for validity
Students will need to bring considerable knowledge to this lesson, including a basic understanding of race relations in the United States, as well as a more specific understanding of the history of race relations after the Civil War, in both the South and the North. For example, students must be familiar with the concept of "separate but equal" from their study of the Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson, and with the struggle, during the twentieth century, to end segregation and achieve civil rights for African Americans. Students may be familiar with the role of white men within the sports community, both opposed to (Ty Cobb, Enos Slaughter) and supporting (Branch Rickey, Pee Wee Reese) the civil rights movement.
While research on these themes could consume an entire course, this lesson focuses narrowly on two documents, each worthy of close reading and analysis. Students will find in this exercise a wealth of ideas that will lead them to further research on the important, interesting, and relevant topic of the history of race relations in the United States. Other sub-themes may occur to students, such as the place of sports in American life, and the conflict between urban and rural values in the United States (suggested by the location of ballparks in the center of busy cities.)
In addition to drawing on general background knowledge, students should be familiar with the information contained in the Special Presentation, Baseball, the Color Line, and Jackie Robinson.
Introduction to Primary Sources
- Students read "Primary and Secondary Sources" in What Are Primary Sources?
- Students receive copies of Student Handout One, "Introduction to Primary Sources."
- Using the handout, students answer the following:
- What is the difference between a primary and a secondary source?
- Give two familiar examples of each type of source.
- Students read "Questions for Analyzing Primary Sources" from Analysis of Primary Sources
- Using the handout, students give brief answers to questions about the two primary sources:
- Jackie Robinson's 1950 letter to Branch Rickey.
- Branch Rickey's 1956 speech to the "100-Percent Wrong Club."
- Using the handout, students answer the questions:
- What type of primary source is Robinson’s letter?
- What type of primary source is Rickey’s speech?
Analysis of Jackie Robinson's Letter
- Students read the Special Presentation, Baseball, the Color Line, and Jackie Robinson
- Students read Jackie Robinson's 1950 letter to Branch Rickey, first page one and page two of the letter in its graphic form, and then the transcription of the letter.
- Students receive copies of Student Handout Two, "Analysis of Jackie Robinson's Letter."
- Using the handout, students answer the following questions, giving one-to-two sentence explanations of their answers.
- In which form do you prefer reading the document? Is one form or the other more meaningful to you? Why?
- Why do you think it was difficult for Robinson to write this letter to Rickey?
- Why was Rickey's leaving Brooklyn harder on Robinson that on everyone else?
- What did Robinson mean when he wrote "Baseball is like that"?
- What "small part" did Robinson play in contributing to Rickey's success in Brooklyn?
- In your opinion, to what "misunderstanding" was Robinson referring?
Analysis of Branch Rickey's Speech
- Students read Branch Rickey's Speech to the "One Hundred Percent Wrong Club"
- Students receive copies of Student Handout Three, "Analysis of Branch Rickey's Speech."
- Using the handout, students answer the following questions:
- In the fourth paragraph of his speech, Rickey seems to be saying that he desired to bring a black player to the St. Louis ballclub. Why did this effort fail?
- According to Rickey, what were the four factors that were necessary for him to bring a black player to the major leagues successfully?
- Rickey stated that "the greatest danger, the greatest hazard, I felt was the negro race itself." What did he mean by that?
- Rickey stated that, according to the historian Frank Tannenbaum, four things were necessary for the acceptance of black players in baseball. What were those four factors?
- When Rickey stated, "I am completely color-blind," do you take him at his word?
- Do you think that the following statement made by Branch Rickey was true in 1956?
America is,--it's been proven Jackie,--is more interested in the grace of a man's swing, in the dexterity of his cutting a base, and his speed afoot, in his scientific body control, in his excellence as a competitor on the field,--America, wide and broad, and in Atlanta, and in Georgia, will become instantly more interested in those marvelous, beautiful qualities than they are in the pigmentation of a man's skin.
- What did Rickey mean when he referred to "the last syllable in a man's name"?
The Historian's Sources
What are Primary Sources?
Analysis of Primary Sources
Types of Primary Sources
Jackie Robinson and Other Baseball Highlights, 1860s - 1960s
Additional Online Resources
Beyond the Playing Field: Jackie Robinson, Civil Rights Advocate
The National Archives and Records Administration site focuses on Robinson’s activities as a civil rights advocate.
Teammate Jackie Robinson and the Negro Leagues of Baseball
The site gives broad view of Robinson’s life as a baseball player and his relationship with some of his teammates, such as Pee Wee Reese, a chronology of Robinson’s life, and links to other relevant sites.
Primary and Secondary SourcesStudent Handout OneStudent Handout TwoStudent Handout Three
Use the following topics for additional student research and reporting:
- While serving in the Army during 1942, Jackie Robinson caused an incident when he refused to move to the back of a bus. Ask students to link the event to other protests, similar or dissimilar, individual or collective, black or white, and draw conclusions as to their effectiveness.
- Branch Rickey's strategy in breaking the color line in baseball has been widely judged a success. To what extent is that judgment due to the fact that Robinson proved to be a marvelous ballplayer? What might have happened had Robinson performed poorly on the field?
- After his retirement from baseball, Robinson expressed his disillusionment with certain matters. What was the cause of his disillusionment? Did he have good reason to be disappointed?
Two to three hours
Reproduced from the Library of Congress web site for teachers. Original lesson plan created as part of the Library of Congress American Memory Fellows Program.