When General Manager Wesley Branch Rickey broke Organized Baseball’s longstanding color barrier on October 23, 1945, by signing Jackie Robinson to a contract to play for the Montreal Royals, a minor league affiliate of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Rickey catalyzed the movement for racial justice. Millions of people saw, heard, and read about black and white men playing side-by-side. Integrating the national pastime helped challenge segregationist norms across the land, facilitating the integration of military troops and public schools soon thereafter.
Rickey’s stirring call in his 1956 Atlanta address to judge people on their merits rather than their pigmentation still resonates for leaders of another revered American institution—higher education. For the past half- century, universities have considered whether, why, and how race ought to play a role in selective admissions processes. The argument has moved past ending and redressing the wrongs of excluding racial minorities to focus on the benefits of including them, with universities arguing that racially diverse student bodies advance their educational missions.
I was dean- in-waiting of Rickey’s alma mater, the University of Michigan Law School, when a legal challenge to our race- conscious admissions policy went all the way to the Supreme Court. In Grutter v. Bollinger, 3 the Court upheld our policy, concluding that racially diverse student bodies both help students to learn more from each other and help prepare them to succeed in a multicultural world so they can better serve the needs of society.
Publication Information & Recommended Citation
Caminker, Evan H. "Branch Rickey, Affirmative Action and 'Merit' in Baseball and Education." In The Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, 2017–2018, edited by William M. Simons, 97-115. Cooperstown Symposium Series. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2019.