Five years of planning and a decade of agitation by sportswriters and grassroots organizers preceded the decision by Branch Rickey, general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, to sign a black player. The move had the support of the baseball commissioner, Happy Chandler, who argued that if African Americans “can fight and die on Okinawa, Guadalcanal [and] in the South Pacific, they can play ball in America,” and was backed by pressure from a new state law barring discrimination in professional baseball, a resolution from the City Council, and Mayor Fiorello La Guardia’s Committee on Baseball.
The player Rickey chose, Jackie Robinson, had played interracial sports all his life. At UCLA, he had become the first athlete ever to earn a varsity letter in four sports in one year – baseball, football, basketball, and track. Rickey selected him carefully, judging that he had both the talent and the character needed to endure the inevitable attacks by opponents of integration in baseball.