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I Never Had It Made: The Autobiography of Jackie Robinsonby Jackie Robinson
Synopses & Reviews
A Dream Deferred
My grandfather was born into slavery, and although my mother and my father, Mallie and Jerry Robinson, lived during an era when physical slavery had been abolished, they also lived in a newer, more sophisticated kind of slavery than the kind Mr. Lincoln struck down. My parents were married in 1909, and my father worked on a plantation for twelve dollars a month.
My mother encouraged him to confront his boss and ask for a better deal. Since he didn't want to lose him, the boss agreed to let my father become a "half-cropper." That means that, instead of working for a flat sum, he would get half the profits from whatever he produced from the earth. My father began to make more money and to provide a better living for his family — my mother and five children. Six months after I was born in 1919, my father told my mother he was going to visit his brother in Texas. I learned as a grown man he had been complaining that he was tired of farming and he had been spending an increasing amount of time in Cairo, the city closest to the plantation. My mother was afraid that my father would not come back, and her fears were justified. Later she learned that he had left home and gone away with a neighbor's wife.
To this day I have no idea what became of my father. Later, when I became aware of how much my mother had to endure alone, I could only think of him with bitterness. He, too, may have been a victim of oppression, but he had no right to desert my mother and five children. A
fter my father left, my mother had the choice of going home to live with her people or trying to pacify the irate plantation owner. He had never forgiven her for forcing my father to ask for moremoney, and he felt that she had somehow had a hand in my father's leaving the plantation. When she refused to admit this, he ordered her off the land. She decided then that she would sell what little she had and take her family out of the South. She had a brother, Burton, in California, and she planned to take us there.
My mother was thirty when we started out for California. I remember nothing about it, since I was only sixteen months old at the time. I was the youngest child and had three brothers — Edgar, eleven; Frank, nine; Mack, seven — and one sister, Willa Mae, five.
As I grew older, I often thought about the courage it took for my mother to break away from the South. Even though there appeared to be little future for us in the West, my mother knew that there she could be assured of the basic necessities. When she left the South, she also left most of her relatives and friends. She knew that her brother in California would help all he could, but he, too, had heavy responsibilities.
After a long, tedious train ride across the country, we were generously received by Uncle Burton. He took us in, but my mother made arrangements to move soon after we arrived because we were too crowded. Almost immediately, she found a job washing and ironing. She didn't make enough, however, to support herself and five children and she went to welfare for relief. Her salary, plus the help from welfare, barely enabled her to make ends meet. Sometimes there were only two meals a day, and some days we wouldn't have eaten at all if it hadn't been for the leftovers my mother was able to bring home from her job.
There was other times when we subsisted on bread and sweet water. My mother gotup before daylight to go to her job, and although she came home tired, she managed to give us the extra attention we needed. She indoctrinated us with the importance of family unity, religion, and kindness toward others. Her great dream for us was that we go to school.
While my mother was at work, my sister Willa Mae took care of me. I went to school with Willa Mae, but I was too young to be enrolled in the school and my mother asked the teacher to allow Willa Mae to leave me in the sandbox in the yard while classes were going on. Every morning Willa Mae put me into the sandbox, where I played until lunchtime, when school was dismissed. If it rained, I was taken into the kindergarten rooms.
Everyone was very nice to me; however, I certainly was happy when, after a year of living in the sandbox, I became old enough to go to school.
We lived in a house on Pepper Street in Pasadena. I must have been about eight years old the first time I ran into racial trouble. I was sweeping our sidewalk when a little neighbor girl shouted at me, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." I was old enough to know how to answer that. I had learned from my older brother that, in the South, the most insulting name you can call a white person is "cracker." That is what I called her, and her father stormed out of the house to confront me. I don't remember who threw the first stone, but the father and I had a pretty good stone-throwing fight going until the girl's mother came out and made him go back into the house. That incident was partof a pattern. Our white neighbors had done unfriendly things before, such as summoning the police and complaining that my brother Edgar made too much noise on their sidewalks with his skates. They had signed petitions to try to get rid of us. My mother never lost her composure. She didn't allow us to go out of our way to antagonize the whites, and she still made it perfectly clear to us and to them that she was not at all afraid of them and that she had no intention of allowing them to mistreat us.
Along with a number of other children in the neighborhood, I had a lot of free time, and a lot of freedom. Some of it I put to good use — I had a paper route, I cut grass and ran errands when I could. The rest of the time, I stole — all sorts of small things from stores, particularly food — and I was a member in good standing of the Pepper Street gang. Our gang was made up of blacks, Japanese, and Mexican kids; all of us came from poor families and had extra time on our hands. We never got into vicious or violent crime, but hardly a week went by when we didn't have to report to Captain Morgan, the policeman who was head of the Youth Division. We threw dirt clods at cars; we hid outon the local golf course and snatched any balls that came our way and often sold them back to their recent owners; we swiped fruit from stands and ran off in a pack; we snitched what we could from the local stores; and all the time we were aware of a growing resentment at being deprived of some of the advantages the white kids had. We were allowed to swim in the local municipal pool only on Tuesdays, and once we were escorted to jail at gunpoint by the sheriff because we had gone for a swim in the reservoir.
Before Ken Griffey Jr., before Reggie Jackson, before Hank Aaron, baseball's celebrated stars had one undeniable trait in common: they were all white. In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke that barrier, changing the world of sports forever.
Before Barry Bonds, before Reggie Jackson, before Hank Aaron, baseball's stars had one undeniable trait in common: they were all white. In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke that barrier, striking a crucial blow for racial equality and changing the world of sports forever. I Never Had It Made is Robinson's own candid, hard-hitting account of what it took to become the first black man in history to play in the major leagues.
I Never Had It Made recalls Robinson's early years and influences: his time at UCLA, where he became the school's first four-letter athlete; his army stint during World War II, when he challenged Jim Crow laws and narrowly escaped court martial; his years of frustration, on and off the field, with the Negro Leagues; and finally that fateful day when Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers proposed what became known as the "Noble Experiment" — Robinson would step up to bat to integrate and revolutionize baseball.
More than a baseball story, I Never Had It Made also reveals the highs and lows of Robinson's life after baseball. He recounts his political aspirations and civil rights activism; his friendships with Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, William Buckley, Jr., and Nelson Rockefeller; and his troubled relationship with his son, Jackie, Jr.
Originally published the year Robinson died, I Never Had It Made endures as an inspiring story of a man whose heroism extended well beyond the playing field.
About the Author
Jackie Robinson shared the turbulent and triumphant story of his life with freelance writer Alfred Duckett, who contributed to the powerful speeches and sermons of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.Co-author of I Never Had it Made, Alfred Duckett assisted Jackie Robinson in writing a newspaper column, and had an important role working on the speeches and sermons of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
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