It has been a month and a half since the end of Black History Month. Nevertheless, two events took place on April 15th that would forever change the future of America’s black community.
On that day in 1865, Abraham Lincold died, a victim of an assassin’s bullet. And also on this day, Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play in the major leagues.
Lincoln’s life reads like an epic novel. Born in a one-room cabin, he overcame obstacles and personal tragedies to become President of the United States. But he never got a chance to relish his victory because by the time he was sworn in, seven states had already seceded – Lincoln’s anti-slavery stance was the catalyst that compelled the South to split from the union.
As the war wore on, Lincoln became conviced that all slaves should be freed, and on the 22nd of September he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, stating that, “…all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free. (NPS)”
Five days after the Union victory at Appomattox, Lincoln was dead. He had preserved the Union, freed the slaves, and ordered reconstruction rather than retribution. In death, his accomplishments only grew in stature, and the cause he championed – emancipation – became his legacy and the hope of a young nation.
Four score and seven years after Lincoln was elected President, another American emerged as a beacon of hope. His uniform was different, however. He wore Dodger blue.
On April 15, 1947 Jackie Robinson became the first black player in the major leagues. An Army veteran, Robinson faced brutal resistance as the spearhead of integration in professional sports. As part of his contract, he had to, “…promise to not fight back when confronted with racism, but rather to remain cool and composed. (Biography.com)”
Some players on other teams threatened to sit out games against the Brooklyn Dodgers, and even some of his own teammates complained about having a black on the team. Opposing fans jeered at him and hurled insults. Through it all, Robinson just played baseball. His stoic perseverance and stellar play won America over and opened the door for other African Americans to play in the big leagues.
Two men linked in history by a common date and common accomplishments. Both broke the color barrier in the face of bitter opposition, and forged a path for future generations to follow.
The result? Racial equality still eludes us, but the military comes as close to reaching that goal as any other organization in the country. Today’s military is not a black or white service. Men and women in uniform see each other as simply different shades of green or blue, and a person can rise to the very highest rank based on performance, rather than on physical charateristics. Today’s Sailors, Marines, Soldiers, Airmen, or Coast Guardsmen are judged not by the color of their skin, but truly by the content of their character.
The tragedy of President Lincoln’s death and the triumph of Jackie Robinson’s appearance as a major league baseall player make the date of April 15th an important one in history, not only for the black community, but for all Americans.