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Eleven years before Rosa Parks resisted going to the back of the bus, a young black second lieutenant, hungry to fight Nazis in Europe, refused to move to the back of a U.S. Army bus in Texas and found himself court-martialed. The defiant soldier was Jack Roosevelt Robinson, already in 1944 a celebrated athlete in track and football and in a few years the man who would break Major League Baseball’s color barrier. This was the pivotal moment in Jackie Robinson’s pre-MLB career. Had he been found guilty, he would not have been the man who broke baseball’s color barrier. Had the incident never happened, he would’ve gone overseas with the Black Panther tank battalion—and who knows what after that. Having survived this crucible of unjust prosecution as an American soldier, Robinson—already a talented multisport athlete—became the ideal player to integrate baseball.
This is a dramatic story, deeply engaging and enraging. It’s a Jackie Robinson story and a baseball story, but it is also an army story as well as an American story.