Nearly 20 years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed racial segregation, Ohio Wesleyan University graduate Branch Rickey stepped up to the plate to promote integration and equality.
Rickey, a member of OWU’s Class of 1904, helped to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier when, as president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, he signed Jackie Robinson in 1945. Later, Rickey helped to integrate Hispanics into baseball when, as general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, he drafted Roberto Clemente in 1954.
By signing Robinson, Rickey fulfilled a pledge made during his time as an Ohio Wesleyan student and baseball coach. After he witnessed the anguish of classmate Charles Thomas when Thomas was denied hotel lodging with white OWU teammates, Rickey pledged that he would help end segregation if ever given the opportunity. (Rickey began his efforts that very day by forcing the Indiana hotel to allow Thomas, a 1906 OWU graduate, to stay in Rickey’s room.)
Ohio Wesleyan will celebrate Rickey’s legacy and his history-making partnership with Robinson from January 24-27 with a weeklong series of special programs. The commemoration will be highlighted by the annual Heisler Business Ethics Lecture, which will be given by Rickey’s grandson, Branch B. Rickey.
The younger Rickey, a 1967 OWU graduate, is president of Minor League Baseball’s Pacific Coast League. He will present “More than Sport: The Branch Rickey-Jackie Robinson Legacy” at 7:30 p.m. January 27 in Gray Chapel.
The weeklong Rickey-Robinson celebration also will include a free night of movies at Delaware’s Strand Theatre, a one-man theatre performance by a Rickey character actor, a special Ross Art Museum exhibit, and a sports roundtable discussion including Branch B. Rickey; Bob DiBiasio ’77, vice president of public relations for the Cleveland Indians; Ken Schnacke, president and general manager of the Columbus Clippers; and Bill Louthan, OWU professor of politics and government (and huge baseball fan!)
During the week, Ohio Wesleyan also will present its prestigious Branch Rickey Award to Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s widow, who created the Jackie Robinson Foundation in 1973. The not-for-profit organization is dedicated to the advancement of higher education among underserved populations. The Branch Rickey Award has been presented only one other time is history: In 1988, it was awarded to tennis great Arthur Ashe.
Read more about Rickey-Robinson Week, including a complete schedule of events, times, and locations.