Who Is the Prophet? Jackie Robinson, Branch Rickey, and the Integration of Baseball
Today the name Jackie Robinson is virtually synonymous with the term “activist athlete.” Yet the story of baseball’s integration was largely forgotten for many years after the Civil Rights era came to a close. When it was re-introduced to the public beginning in the 1980s by baseball historians, Hollywood, Major League Baseball, and Jackie Robinson’s family and heirs, it relied heavily on the myth Branch Rickey created and promulgated many years before, that he, the Brooklyn Dodger executive who devised the “great experiment” to end segregation in organized baseball, was the key figure who changed history, a prophet in his time. This paper will examine the ways in which the story Rickey told about his role in baseball’s integration corresponds to dimensions often associated with biblical prophecy: being at first reluctant, but becoming a moral teacher who exposed injustice, an intermediary between the human and the divine, a visionary who possessed a true and hopeful view of the future as it should be. It will also assess the limitations of his “lone pioneer” strategy and support the claims made by recent scholars and activists who have been highly critical of how Rickey conducted his “experiment,” placing his prophetic role in question.
KeywordsJackie Robinson Branch Rickey Baseball integration Activist athlete Brooklyn Dodgers Cultural appropriation
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