SWEEP . . . SWEEP . . . sweep . . .
Eight-year-old Jackie Robinson brushed the big broom across the sidewalk in front of his little house on Pepper Street in Pasadena, California. All five of the Robinson children had a job they had to do every day. Jackie’s job was to keep the sidewalk spotless.
It wasn’t a hard job. In fact, Jackie was having fun. He pretended that his broom was a hockey stick, and he fired a slap shot into an imaginary net. Whack! The dirt flew into the
street. Then he pretended his broom was a golf club, and he drove a tee shot far down an imaginary fairway. Wham!
It was October 1927. Jackie had heard about a famous baseball player named Babe Ruth who hit an amazing sixty home runs that season. Nobody had ever done that before. Jackie pretended his broom was a baseball bat, and he cracked a home run over an imaginary centerfield fence. Smash! The dirt went flying off the sidewalk.
It was a joyful time. Jackie was lost in his thoughts and fantasies, imagining that he was a famous athlete.
Suddenly, a girl about Jackie’s age came out of her house down the street. She saw Jackie. Her face immediately twisted up into a scowl and she spat out just one word. “Nigger!”
With that one word, Jackie’s mood changed
instantly. The happiness he had been feeling washed away from him. It was replaced by anger, a deep anger that began to well up inside him.
Jackie had heard the word before, but nobody had ever said it to him. He knew it was a bad word. It was a word that some white people would use against people who looked like Jackie—people who had dark skin.
“That girl doesn’t even know me,” Jackie thought to himself as he stared at her. “We never talked. Why is she calling me names? How can she possibly dislike me so much?”
Jackie was too young to understand how people of different races and ethnic groups sometimes don’t get along together. It didn’t make sense to him. People were just people. Why should somebody’s skin color have anything to do with the kind of person he or she
was? But the girl had made him very mad, and he wanted to make her mad right back.
He remembered something his older brother Frank once told him. Frank said that back in Georgia, where the Robinsons used to live, the worst thing you could call a white person was “cracker.”
“Cracker!” Jackie yelled at the girl. She ran back into her house and slammed the door.
Jackie went back to his sidewalk sweeping and forgot about the girl. He pretended that his broom was a tennis racquet, and he smacked a backhand across an imaginary court. Slam!
At that moment a rock whizzed past Jackie’s head. It smacked into the tree behind him with a thud. Jackie stiffened. He spun around to see where the rock might have come from. A man was standing in front of the girl’s house. He was staring at Jackie. “It must be her father,” Jackie thought.