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Frank Robinson - Early Life

oakland ogden school racial

Born in 1935 in Beaumont, Texas, Frank Robinson was the youngest of Ruth (Shaw) Robinson's ten children. After her third husband Frank deserted her, Ruth took her children, including four-year-old Frank Jr, and moved to Oakland, California. By the time he was a teenager, baseball was the focus of young Frank's life. His mother was poor and he was fourteen before he owned his own baseball glove. But that did not prevent Robinson from playing baseball all day long every day in the summer, coming home for dinner only after there was no more light for the game. Just after his fourteenth birthday, his batting talent caught the eye of one of his school teachers, George Powles, who invited Robinson to join his Doll Drug Company team, and a year later his championship American Legion team. After Robinson joined, the team—which would eventually send 14 of its 25 players into professional ball—won another title. Robinson continued under Powles' mentorship at Oakland's McClymonds High School, where he was in the class just a year behind future basketball great Bill Russell's.

Robinson had told a high school counselor at McClymonds that he intended to play major league ball. The dream started coming true after his graduation in 1953 when he was signed by the Cincinnati Reds organization. Though he grew up poor, Robinson had lived in an integrated neighborhood in Oakland that was remarkably free of racial strife. This changed dramatically when he played for the Reds' minor league teams in Ogden, Utah, and Columbia, South Carolina. "Ogden was in a Mormon state, and though I didn't know it, at that time the Mormon religion insisted that Negroes were inferior beings," he recalled in his book Extra Innings. "I got my first taste of racial bigotry in Ogden." He could not use the hotels or restaurants frequented by white players; he was not allowed in movie theaters; he had to wait for special black cabs to ride to the ballpark. On top of it all, he had to endure the racial taunts and obscenities shouted by fans and opponents. The situation was no better in Columbia.

Frank Robinson - Joining The Big Leagues [next]

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about 8 years ago