Breaking Barriers: Baseball, Social Change, and Civil Rights

Breaking Barriers: Baseball, Social Change, and Civil Rights (Grades 8-12)

The breaking of the racial barriers in baseball was a watershed moment for American society and a precursor to the Civil Rights movement.

The history of baseball reflects the best and worst of America. Baseball is a symbol of American values but it also witnessed significant challenges, including the struggle for racial integration and equal rights. Racial prejudice, antisemitism, gender discrimination, and cultural stereotyping have all been debated through our national pastime.

This program follows the stories of Baseball Hall of Fame stars Hank Greenberg, Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, and Roberto Clemente, who became the new faces of baseball’s ethnic diversity while confronting racial prejudice. It explains how their involvement in baseball served as a crucial indicator of the slow change in American values. Special emphasis is placed on the fact that the breaking of racial barriers on the baseball field preceded the legislative efforts to ensure civil rights and civil liberties for all Americans. Conveying a message that “people create change,” the program inspires students to think about the importance of social awareness, courage, imagination, and aspiration in their own lives, and motivates them to apply these ideals to their everyday actions and decisions.


  1. Understand that baseball mirrored cultural currents, national attitudes, and challenges present in American society
  2. Analyze the importance of Jackie Robinson and the Negro Leagues to baseball and to American society
  3. Recognize the role of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in challenging gender boundaries and changing public opinion about women and sports
  4. Understand the importance of values such as civic courage and social justice, and the role of social movements in raising consciousness and bringing about change
  5. Understand the importance of setting goals, facing challenges, and taking action
  6. Analyze and evaluate primary and secondary source documents
  7. Understand that historical sources can show bias and reflect what people believed or thought about a particular subject
  8. Participate effectively in conversations and group interactions 

Classroom Baseball Experience: These lessons, downloadable via the link below, are designed to support a visit to Chasing Dreams, but can also stand alone as independent units of study. They include images of objects, photos, and documents from the exhibition as well as discussion questions to help you explore these resources with your students.  Relevant Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Common Core Standards are included as well. If you are planning to visit the exhibition, the introductory lesson will serve as a useful pre-visit experience; the other lessons can be taught either before or after your visit.

Click here to download the Breaking Barriers teacher kit

Click here to download the Breaking Barriers worksheet