How Church Helped Sign Jackie Robinson to Brooklyn Dodgers

Sometimes, matters of faith have a quiet yet powerful way of influencing history.

Take, for example, the behind-the-scenes story that preceded the entry of the first African-American player to major league baseball more than six decades ago.

That player, of course, was the legendary Jackie Robinson, who shattered the big-league color barrier when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. The story of faith belongs to the baseball executive who signed Robinson, the equally legendary Branch Rickey, and to a New York minister who played a quiet role in a major decision.

And the telling of that story spans generations and families, from the minister’s wife, who wrote it down, to the couple’s granddaughter who uncovered it many years later among her late grandmother’s writings.

“I had no idea that I would find a story that linked my grandfather to a part of U.S. history,” the granddaughter, Donnali Fifield, told CNN. “But as soon as I read it, I knew it was historically significant.”

What Fifield read was an account by June Fifield of her husband, the Rev. Dr. L. Wendell Fifield, and his encounter with Rickey as history was about to be made.

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Date posted: March 17, 2012