July 6, 1944: Jackie Robinson Refused to Move to the Back of a Bus

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July 6, 1944: Jackie Robinson refused to move to the back of a bus, leading to a court martial.

While awaiting results of hospital tests on the ankle he had injured in junior college, Robinson boarded an Army bus with a fellow officer’s wife; although the Army had commissioned its own unsegregated bus line, the bus driver ordered Robinson to move to the back of the bus. Robinson refused. The driver backed down, but after reaching the end of the line, summoned the military police, who took Robinson into custody. When Robinson later confronted the investigating duty officer about racist questioning by the officer and his assistant, the officer recommended Robinson be court-martialed.

After Robinson’s commander in the 761st, Paul L. Bates, refused to authorize the legal action, Robinson was summarily transferred to the 758th Battalion—where the commander quickly consented to charge Robinson with multiple offenses, including, among other charges, public drunkenness, even though Robinson did not drink.

By the time of the court-martial in August 1944, the charges against Robinson had been reduced to two counts of insubordination during questioning. Robinson was acquitted by an all-white panel of nine officers. The experiences Robinson was subjected to during the court proceedings would be remembered when he later joined the MLB and was subjected to racist attacks.

Although his former unit, the 761st Tank Battalion, became the first black tank unit to see combat in World War II, Robinson’s court-martial proceedings prohibited him from being deployed overseas, thus he never saw combat action. After his acquittal, he was transferred to Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky, where he served as a coach for army athletics until receiving an honorable discharge in November 1944.

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