Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Civil Rights After Baseball: The Presidential Responses to Jackie Robinson
Kurtis D. Werner
American History
Time Frame:
One or Two 45 minute class periods
Grade Levels:
9, 10, 11, 12

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:
  • This will be a technology-based, analysis, assignment that will focus on primary source documents of President Truman’s viewpoints on race and letters that Brooklyn Dodgers Hall-of-Famer Jackie Robinson wrote to former Presidents, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon advocating for advancements of Civil Rights in American society.

  • According to the U.S. National Archives and Administration Association:   Robinson, proud of being black, challenged racial pretensions throughout his life. As a child he fought with rocks against taunting neighbors; as an adolescent he went to jail for a traffic altercation involving a white motorist; and as a college star in four sports, he took no guff from race-baiting competitors. As an Army lieutenant, he so resisted efforts to make him move to the back of a southern bus that he eventually faced court-martial proceedings                    (where he was found innocent); and as a ball player, he railed against teams and individuals he believed to be racist. This vigilance against racial wrongdoing was a legacy he wanted to pass on to his children--to be willing to stand up for what they believed and to       lawfully press for their rights as full-fledged Americans who happened to be black.
  • Students only see Jackie Robinson as a black, baseball player. They know he endures a lot during his playing days thanks especially to such films as 42 by Brian Helgeland. However, students need to see that he was even more active in Civil Rights for groups of people after his playing days by speaking out about pros and cons on issues such as the escalation of Civil Rights for African-Americans over time and the Vietnam War. Likewise, Presidents such as Harry S. Truman will be viewed on race-relations during their respective time periods.

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:

Social Studies Grade - and Course-Level Expectations 2.0 for the State of Missouri

  • Analyze the evolution of American democracy, its ideas, institutions, and political processes from Reconstruction to the present including: 2. Struggle for Civil Rights SS3 1.6, 1.9
  • Explain the importance of the following principles of government since Reconstruction 2. Constitution and civil rights SS3 1.10
  • Describe and evaluate the evolution of United States domestic and foreign policies from Reconstruction to the present, including 7. Cold War SS3 1.6, 1.9, 3.5, 3.6
  • Describe the changing character of American society and culture (i.e., arts and literature, education and philosophy, religion and values, and science and technology SS3 1.9, 1.10
  • Compare and contrast the major ideas and beliefs of different cultures SS6 1.6
  • Analyze how the roles of class, ethnic, racial, gender and age groups have changed in society, including causes and effects SS6 1.6
  • Predict the consequences that can occur when: 1. Institutions fail to meet the needs of individuals and groups 2. Individuals fail to carry out their personal responsibilities SS6 3.1
  • Determine the causes, consequences, and possible resolutions of cultural conflicts SS6 3.6

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
  • The film 42 by Brian Helgeland

The story of Jackie Robinson from his signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers organization in 1945 to his historic 1947 rookie season when he broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball.

  • Tygiel, Jules. Baseball’s Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy. Expanded ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.                                                                                               This book describes one of the most important steps in the history of American desegregation, Tygiel tells the story of Jackie Robinson's crossing of baseball's color line. Examining the social and historical context of Robinson's introduction into white organized baseball, both on and off the field and how he helped transform our national pastime into an integrated game. Drawing on dozens of interviews with players and front office executives, contemporary newspaper accounts, and personal papers, Tygiel provides the most telling and insightful account of Jackie Robinson's influence on American baseball and society.
  • Taylor, Jon E. Freedom to Serve: Truman, Civil Rights, and Executive Order 9981 (Critical Moments in American History) New York: Routledge, 2013.

      Taylor traces the development of civil rights policy in the American military from the World War II era  

       to the present, focusing on the civil rights campaigns that pressured the Franklin D. Roosevelt and      

      Truman administrations for faster and greater change.

Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

Jackie Robinson continued to champion the cause of civil rights after he left baseball. Having captured the attention of the American public in the ballpark, he now delivered the message that racial integration in every facet of American society would enrich the nation, just as surely as it had enriched the sport of baseball. Every American President who held office between 1956 and 1972 received letters from Jackie Robinson expressing varying levels of rebuke for not going far enough to advance the cause of civil rights. Indifferent to party affiliation and unwilling to compromise, he measured a President's performance by his level of commitment to civil rights. Robinson's stand was firm and nonnegotiable. The letters reveal the passionate and, at times, combative spirit with which Robinson worked to remove the racial barriers in American society.

  • Congressional Record. 76th Cong. 3rd sess, 1940, 86 pt. 16: 4546-4547. Truman’s “Brotherhood of Man” speech from July 25, 1940, in Sedalia, Missouri. Taken from Taylor, Jon E. Freedom to Serve: Truman, Civil Rights, and Executive Order 9981 (Critical Moments in American History) New York: Routledge, 2013. (Document 1 – Attached)

On May 22, 1939, Thomas Pendergast, the patriarch of the Pedergast machine, pled guilty to charges of income tax evasion and was sentenced to fifteen months at Fort Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. Truman, to distance himself from the political machine, went on a new campaign strategy and made a speech at the dedication of “Sedalia’s City Hospital No. 2 for Negroes” on July 25, 1940. The “brotherhood of man” speech was bold language for a Southerner like Truman to use in his Senate campaign supporting Civil Rights

On June 29, 1947, Harry Truman became the first President to address the NAACP on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial live on radio. In the speech, Truman advocates in his speech deep changes that needed to take place to combat racial discrimination and the promotion of civil rights and liberties.

Truman moved ahead on civil rights by using his executive powers. Among other things, Truman bolstered the civil rights division, appointed the first African American judge to the Federal bench, named several other African Americans to high-ranking administration positions, and most important, on July 26, 1948, he issued an executive order abolishing segregation in the armed forces and ordering full integration of all the services. Executive Order 9981 stated, "there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed forces without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin." The order also established an advisory committee to examine the rules, practices, and procedures of the armed services and recommend ways to make desegregation a reality. There was considerable resistance to the executive order from the military, but by the end of the Korean conflict, almost all the military was integrated.

Full description of activity or assignment.
  • Optional - take 2-3 class periods and show the film 42 to the class and have a brief discussion each day on the growth of Jackie Robinson’s character as a person during his rookie season.
  • Explain to the students that they will be analyzing primary source documents concerning both President Harry S. Truman and Jackie Robinson’s viewpoints on Civil Rights for all people.
  • Students should each be given an Ipad for this activity to conserve paper. If Ipads are unavailable, a computer lab will suffice. If a computer lab is not available, each of the 12 documents will need to be copied and handed out to the groups of students. Copy locations of primary source documents can be found in the primary source documents portion of this lesson plan.
  • Group students into differentiated groups of 4 students in each group. Each of the four students will be responsible for analyzing 3 of the 12 documents for this activity. Teachers or students should pick out which documents they will be analyzing from the list below:

Document 1: President Truman Speech at  “Sedalia’s City Hospital No. 2 for Negroes” on July 25, 1940 (attached)

Document 2: President Truman Address Before the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on June 29, 1947 http://www.trumanlibrary.org/publicpapers/index.php?pid=2115&st=&st1

Document 3: President Truman’s Executive Order #9981 July 26, 1948 http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=84&sortorder=   or https://www.trumanlibrary.org/9981a.htm

Document 4: Jackie Robinson Telegram to the White House August 13, 1957 http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/jackie-robinson/index.html

Document 5: Jackie Robinson Letter to President Eisenhower May 13, 1958 http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/jackie-robinson/index.html

Document 6: Jackie Robinson Draft letter from Vice-President Nixon November 4, 1960 http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/jackie-robinson/index.html

Document 7: Jackie Robinson Letter to President Kennedy February 9, 1961 http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/jackie-robinson/index.html

Document 8: Jackie Robinson Telegram to President Kennedy June 15, 1963 http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/jackie-robinson/index.html

Document 9: Jackie Robinson Photograph August 28, 1963 http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/jackie-robinson/index.html

Document 10: Jackie Robinson Telegram to President Johnson March 9, 1965 http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/jackie-robinson/index.html

Document 11: Jackie Robinson Letter to President Johnson April 18, 1967 http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/jackie-robinson/index.html

Document 12: Jackie Robinson Letter to the White House April 20, 1972 http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/jackie-robinson/index.html

  • Students should be able to access their documents via electronically or by handouts. Students will analyze each of their three documents by using the U.S. National Archives and Administration Association’s document analysis worksheets that were designed and developed by the Education Staff of the National Archives and Records Administration. The link for the document analysis sheet is: http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/worksheets/document.html Only Document 9 will use http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/worksheets/photo.html to analyze the photograph of Jackie Robinson.
  • What the students do not finish in the allotted class time does become homework. Students should have an opportunity to meet with their full group to discuss each of the documents and to see if there are questions that have been brought to the group’s attention.
  • The second part of the activity after analyzing and documenting the primary source documents will be analyzing the relationship of Jackie Robinson and President Truman’s viewpoints on race through a written assignment. Students should compare and contrast the context of the time period with today’s viewpoints on race to see if President Truman appropriately handled the situation of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier of Major League Baseball.



Document 1


On July 25, 1940, Senator Lewis Schwellenbach of Washington asked that by unanimous consent a portion of Truman’s speech delivered at Sedalia be placed into the Appendix to the Congressional Record. The Record described the speech as a “tribute to the Negro by the junior Senator from Missouri [Mr. Truman]. This tribute is part of an address delivered by the junior Senator from Missouri to Sedalia, Mo., on June 15, 1940.” Historians have sometimes referred to the speech as the “brotherhood of man” speech because one of the most important paragraphs in the reprinted speech read:


 Congressional Record. 76th Cong. 3rd sess, 1940, 86 pt. 16: 4546-4547.

Taken from Taylor, Jon E. Freedom to Serve: Truman, Civil Rights, and Executive Order 9981 (Critical Moments in American History) New York: Routledge, 2013.



Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:
  • Students will turn in their U.S. National Archives and Records Association’s document analysis worksheets (all three) and teachers are responsible for using the Primary Source Analysis Rubric to grade all three of the document analysis worksheets. Teachers may designate a set number of points to administer at their own discretion.




Primary Source Analysis Rubric












Analysis of Document

Offers in-depth and accurate analysis and interpretation. Distinguishes between fact and opinion. Explores reliability of author. Compare/contrast author’s point of view (perspective) with the view of others. Originality of thought is present in analysis.

Offers accurate analysis and/or interpretation of the document. May attempt to distinguish between fact and opinion. May explore points of view.

Demonstrates a minimal understanding of the document with limited interpretation or analysis.

Reiterates one or two facts from the document, but does not offer any valid analysis or interpretation of the document.




Knowledge of Historical Context

Demonstrates superior knowledge and understanding of the time period. Relates primary sources to specific historical context.

Uses previous general historical knowledge to adequately examine issues included in the document.

Limited or inaccurate use of previous historical knowledge.

Little or no indication of previous historical knowledge is apparent.





Identification of Main Points

Accurately identifies and explains the key issues and concepts in the primary source. Demonstrates understanding of author’s thesis and/or goal.

Identifies most of the key issues and concepts in the primary source. Some understanding of the author’s thesis or goal is apparent

Describes in  general terms one issue or concept included in the primary source.

Identification of main points is vague or is not present.

Understanding of Audience

Shows strong understanding of author’s audience

Shows some understanding of author’s audience.

Shows little understanding of author’s audience.

Shows no understanding of author’s audience.





























  • This question prompt (graded for accuracy –see Writing Rubric or completion) can be projected on a white board for the written part of the assignment, or it can be copied and passed out to students on a piece of paper:

The President's Committee on Civil Rights (PCCR) was established by Executive Order 9808, which Harry Truman, who was then President of the United States, issued on December 5, 1946. The committee was instructed to investigate the status of civil rights in the country and propose measures to strengthen and protect them. After the committee submitted a report of its findings to President Truman, it disbanded in December 1947. Indiana University – Indianapolis historian Chris Lamb stated that the Truman’s commission on civil rights referred to Robinson and the “possibilities inherent in the presence of a black ballplayer.” Yet, columnist Phillip Morris of Cleveland.com states that “according to an archivist at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum, there was no immediately available record that the president [Truman] reached out to Robinson to celebrate and praise his courage on April 15, 1947” when Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier by becoming the first African-American to play Major League baseball in the modern era. In a half-page written assignment – describe the conditions in America from the 1940s – 1970s that would force Presidents Truman through President Nixon to tread lightly on the issue of civil rights and why Americans like Jackie Robinson would be frustrated by the progress of civil rights.






Writing Rubric










Position Statement

Position is clearly stated and consistently maintained. Clear references to the issue(s) are stated.

Position is clearly stated and consistently maintained. References to the issues(s) at hand are missing.

Position is stated, but is not maintained consistently throughout work.

Statement of position cannot be determined.



Supporting Information

Evidence clearly supports the position; evidence is sufficient.

Evidence clearly supports the position, but there is not enough evidence.

Argument is supported by limited evidence.

Evidence is unrelated to argument.





Structure of work is clearly developed.

Structure developed reasonably well, but lacks clarity.

Some attempt to structure the argument has been made, but the structure is poorly developed.

There is a total lack of structure.



Tone is consistent and enhances persuasiveness.

Tone enhances persuasiveness, but there are inconsistencies.

Tone does not contribute to persuasiveness.

Tone is inappropriate to purpose.



Sentence Structure

Sentence structure is correct.

Sentence structure is generally correct. Some awkward sentences do appear.

Work contains structural weaknesses and grammatical errors.

Work pays little attention to proper sentence structure.




Punctuation and capitalization are correct.

There is one error in punctuation and/or capitalization.

There are two or three errors in punctuation and/or capitalization.

There are four or more errors in punctuation and/or capitalization.