Jackie Robinson: More Than A Baseball Pioneer

Jackie Robinson: More Than A Baseball Pioneer
Bess Truman: Sports and Popular Culture

Skill: Middle School
Time Required: Two to three class periods


From 1941 to 1945, World War II overwhelmed the world stage. Following the war, here in the United States, a climate of change began. Soldiers came back from the war and worked hard to find their places back in society. African American soldiers had fought and died to defend a nation that did not view them as equal citizens. During the Truman Administration we begin to see the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement. The Truman administration went considerably beyond Roosevelt’s New Deal in the area of civil rights. Although, a conservative Congress thwarted Truman's desire to achieve significant civil rights legislation, he was able to use his powers as President to achieve some important changes. He issued executive orders desegregating the armed forces and forbidding racial discrimination in Federal employment. He also established a Committee on Civil Rights. His wife Bess shared these views. There was a strong feeling among the African American population of the United States that things needed to change and change soon. In 1947 Jackie Robinson inspired the African American community of the entire nation when he became the first black player to play in previously all white Major League Baseball. He did not intend to be a hero, and he faced unbelievable racism in the process but he became a model of pride, dignity, and class that still inspires a nation.


Students will use primary source documents to investigate the character of Jackie Robinson. Students will go beyond the stories of the integration of baseball to develop a more in depth understanding of Jackie Robinson as a civil rights activist.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet; primary source documents from the National Archives: Letter to President Eisenhower May 13, 1958,Letter to President KennedyFebruary 9, 1961, Letter to President JohnsonApril 18, 1967, Jackie Robinson Quotes (see Web Resources, below); poster board and markers; graphic organizers – character maps (see Web Resources, below).


1.  Begin the lesson by reading the picture book A Picture Book of Jackie Robinson to the class. If you cannot get a copy of this book try one of the websites listed below for information. Discuss the information in the book with the students. Stress the difficulty he faced as the only African American in Major League Baseball.
2.  Split the class into groups of four and distribute the primary source documents. These documents are copies of letters Jackie Robinson wrote to various political figures. Use the following letters from the National Archives:

   Letter to President Eisenhower May 13, 1958

   Letter to President Kennedy

   February 9, 1961, Letter to President Johnson

   April 18, 1967, Jackie Robinson Quotes
3.  Have students look for themes in the letters and quotes and create a of list things these documents have in common. Have them compare and contrast these traits to his actions as a ballplayer. Students will list information on a poster and share with the class.
4.  Have the students create a character web about Jackie Robinson. Have them write their own short biography of him based on what they learned from the primary source documents.

Extending the Lesson:

A natural extension to this lesson would be to research other sports figures involved in the Civil Rights Movement.

Sources & Resources:

A Picture Book of Jackie Robinson, David A. Adler, Holiday House Publisher
National Archives Primary Source Documents 
Short Biography of Jackie Robinson 
Another Biography of Jackie Robinson 
Various Character Maps

This lesson was developed by Robert McClelland, Cleveland Municipal School District.