Thursday, April 15, 2010

Jackie Robinson Takes On the Field 63 Years Ago Today

Some how it seems fitting to start off this article in the following way.

Three score and three years ago today, Jackie Roosevelt Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers. I sit today and try to imagine what must have been going through his mind 63 years ago today.

I can't. I'm a white guy in a white guy's America.

The closest I have come to being Jackie Robinson, is being the only Jewish family in a town that had us and one other family that was only half Jewish. This in the small shoe town of Spencer, MA, which was primarily French Canadian.

In fact until the early 1970's, Spencer had a Catholic fire department and a Protestant Fire Department. I used to joke to my parents that we'd be in trouble if our house were ever to catch fire.

So when Jackie Robinson sat in his all-white locker room on the morning of Apr. 15, 1947, I can't even begin to guess what was in his head. I suspect that he dressed in the far back corner of the Brooklyn locker room. Even if it wasn't geographically set apart, I'm sure it was metaphorically such.

And though we look at him as a hero some three score later and wear his No. 42 in a show of unity, I suspect becoming a hero was the furthest thing from Jackie's mind. I suspect that staying alive or trying to drown out racial epitaphs were more in the forefront of his thoughts.

Why, it was still 16 years later when MLK gave his "I Have A Dream" speech and stated:

"But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition."

While King gave his famous speech in front of hundreds of thousands, Jackie Robinson sat in that locker room at Ebbets Field alone. By himself. Faced with the daunting task of desegregating all of baseball.

It wasn't until 1959, more than a decade later, that Pumpsie Green became the first African American to don the Sox of the Boston Red Sox, deemed by many to be the most racist organization in sports. It wasn't until then that baseball was truly desegregated.

In fact in 1973, after another fourteen years had passed, Judge W. Arthur Garrity abolished segregation in Boston's schools and ordered forced busing of blacks to schools that, until then, were all white. Garritty's decision was met with riots, bombings and personal death threats.

It was about that time that Jim Rice, a black from Greenville, NC took left field for those same Red Sox and essentially became the first black star in the organization's history.

And now, another 38 years have passed and we only recently elected our first African-American president. I suspect that we are pretty proud of ourselves as a Nation for righting a historical wrong. I suppose we think that we are finally "judging a man by the content of his character and not by the color of his skin."

I like to think that Jackie Robinson would be proud, too.

But I wonder.

No comments:

Post a Comment