1944 lieutenant jackie robinson


1944 Lieutenant Jackie Robinson of the U.S. Army, while riding a civilian bus from Camp Hoo, Texas, refuses to give up his seat to a white man.

Jackie Robinson in military uniform, 1945
Jackie Robinson in military uniform, 1945

He was a lieutenant in the Army of the United States: he saw no reason to sit in the back of the bus

The Court-Martial of Jackie Robinson

ON JULY 6, 1944, Jackie Robinson, a twenty-five-year-old lieutenant, boarded an Army bus at Fort Hood, Texas. Sixteen months later he would be tapped as the man to break baseball’s color barrier, but in 1944 he was one of thousands of blacks thrust into the Jim Crow South during World War II. He was with the light-skinned wife of a fellow black officer, and the two walked half the length of the bus, then sat down, talking amiably. The driver, gazing into his rear-view mirror, saw a black officer seated in the middle of the bus next to a woman who appeared to be white. “Hey, you, sittin’ beside that woman,” he yelled. “Get to the back of the bus.”

Lieutenant Robinson ignored the order. The driver stopped the bus, marched back to where the two passengers were sitting, and demanded that the lieutenant “get to the back of the bus where the colored people belong.” Robinson refused, and so began a series of events that led to his arrest and court-martial and, finally, threatened his entire career.

Jackie Robinson was already a national celebrity in 1944. During a spectacular athletic career a the University of California at Los Angeles, he had starred in basketball, football, track, and baseball. He was drafted in April 1942, and during the following year a study of blacks in the Army singled him out. “Social Intercourse between the races has been discouraged, ” it was reported in Jim Crow Joins Up, “yet Negro athletes such as Joe Louis, the prizefighter, and Jack Robinson, the All-American football star … are today greatly admired in the army.”

Initially, Robinson had been assigned to a cavalry unit at Fort Riley, Kansas, where he applied for Officers’ Candidate School. Official Army policy provided for the training of black officers in integrated facilities; in reality, however, few blacks had yet gained access to OCS. At Fort Riley, Robinson was rejected and told, off the record, that blacks were excluded from OCS because they lacked leadership ability.

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