Colin Kaepernick’s dignified protest echoes the spirit of Jackie Robinson | Richard Williams

The quiet but effective way Kaepernick has created the take a knee movement would resonate with the baseball legend whose brilliance helped combat the terrible racism he encountered in the 1940s and 50s

When Time magazine conducted a poll in 1947 with the aim of identifying the most popular person in the United States, Bing Crosby came out on top. Close behind was Jackie Robinson, the baseball player who, earlier in the year, had become the first African American to compete in the major leagues. Not everyone had cheered that seismic event. Some teams threatened to strike rather than play against a team including Robinson. Individual opponents greeted his appearance on the field with shouts of “Hey, nigger, why don’t you go back to the cotton field, where you belong?” That, and much worse.

Robinson channelled his anger into performance. Outwardly he bore the insults with a stoicism strengthened by his prior experience of racism as a teenager in Pasadena, when a sheriff pulled a gun on him for daring to swim in a municipal pool, and while serving with the US forces in 1944. As an infantry lieutenant at Fort Hood in Texas he had been court-martialed after challenging the driver of an army bus who commanded him, in contravention of a military anti-segregation order, to move to the back. The charges against him were later dismissed.

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