Yesterday was the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King’s famous speech and march on Washington D.C. Many feel it was the most important day in the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. Yes, it was very significant but I don’t think it was the most difficult. Martin was a preacher who was always surrounded by his followers who loved him. Especially the religious women who adored him. With that kind of support one can have the courage to say almost anything. I feel that there is one guy who deserves infinitely more recognition than Martin and he never gets the credit. Not even now. His name is Jackie Robinson.
Imagine having to be the only black guy in a white world. Yes, the world of baseball and sports in general is a tough place to be no matter what you look like. It is a place full of drunken loud obnoxious men that ban together to shout insults to the opposing team and it’s individual players. Imagine being the only black guy having to perform surrounded by those kind of people. Jackie did not go everywhere surrounded by black people or even people who adored him. He stood alone and he stood tall and he did it years before Martin was a well known name. Jackie Robinson paved the way for the other black people to step forward and finally be noticed in society.
More than half a century ago the drama that played out in the Major Leagues played a major role not only in America’s pastime, baseball, but in America itself. It is the story of number 42 which is a retired number and of which one day every year the entire team wears the number 42 on their uniform for a game honoring Jackie Robinson. In April of 1947 more than ten years before Martin surfaced, baseball and the country began to change as well.
Jackie Robinson, number 42, made his first game on the mound with the Brooklyn Dodgers. His own team fans booed him. Brooklyn is a tough town. He was the only black man in a all white league. It is not like he wanted to be noticed. He just wanted to play Major League baseball. Well, like a bride all dressed in white at her party, a black man is hard to go unnoticed on the Baseball field. There weren’t even many black fans in the stands in those days either.
As a young pitcher for the Dodgers that day a few other players stood with him for support. Most players would leave a space between them in the lineup. There is a movie out made called 42 that focuses on his struggles in the pre-season just to get near the mound. This guy had real courage in the face of hostility and racism. He was a pioneer, the first black guy to stand alone till he was accepted. It was a time when the schools and the military was segregated. The Civil Rights Bill was a distant dream that didn’t happen for decades later in time.
At one point several teammates even signed a petition to ban him from the game. It failed but the booing and taunts continued just because he approached the mound to do his job. They threw watermelons on the field and black cats and little bales of cotton. Eve Ben Chapman who was the manager of the Philly team would shout as loud as he can, “Hey boy! I need a shoeshine!” “Hey boy how come you are not working as a porter?” It was amazing that Jackie was able to keep his cool and never stoop that low to lash back. Would you be able to take all that crap? Jackie was the greatest.
His wife Rachael Robinson is still alive who attended every one of his games. She remembers the frustration of having to take the verbal attacks and “ feeling that it was very painful to be attacked and not being able to respond. I also cringed every time I saw pitches being deliberately tossed at his head and wondering if he was all right.” She like him was determined to avoid the abuse by ignoring it.
Rachael and Jackie were married for more than 25 years until his death in 1972. Now at 90 years old Rachael is the founder of the Jackie Robinson Foundation which gives college scholarships to deserving students. She was a consultant on the movie that starred Harrison Ford and redid a scene in the movie that was about her first trip down south. She walked right into a white’s only bathroom and left her deposit. Fifty years ago martin should have thanked Jackie in his speech.