Thursday, August 15, 2013

Breaking the Color Line: Jackie Robinson

Terre Haute, IN – On April 15th, 1947, a six decade old, imaginary line in the major leagues was crossed, by a former soldier. Jackie Robinson was entered at first base by the Brooklyn Dodgers.

The reception was not good. He was called names. Other members of the team said they would rather sit out than play with him. Other teams threatened to strike. Once he received a seven inch gash in his leg through purposeful rough play. One manager shouted form the dugout he should go back to the cotton fields.
This was characteristic of America at this time. There were the “separate but equal” facilities for whites and blacks, the term being derived from a law of Louisiana, which actually says “equal but separate.”
Of course, it was not equal, the back of the bus for the blacks, the shabby restrooms, etc. Between 1882 and 1968, according to Tuskegee Institute, around 3,450 black were lynched by mobs. Groups such as the KKK had been formed long before, and at times reached upwards of 5 million members.
The blatant racism, stemming from a direct disobedience to the scriptural command to “love thy neighbor as thyself” and to live peacefully with all men, did not go unopposed, but often it succeeded in getting its way, such as when a group of black boys were accused of raping two white women, and despite little or no evidence, were sentenced to prison. It was many years before all of them were released, and by then their lives were stigmatized, ruined, and already half over.
In the “Negro Leagues” there were many good players, such as Satchel Page, who threw games, according to some, in which he struck out every single batter. There were many minds wasted in other areas because of bigotry and hate.
As for Jackie Robinson, he at least was given an opportunity to prove himself. He did not scream back when a black cat was thrown onto the field and called his brother, he did not respond to things thrown at him or said to him. If he had become angry, it would have affected his playing, which would have forced the management to send him down, which would have “proved” to the critics that they were right, it was a white man’s world. But instead he was the first ever Rookie of the Year, leading the league in stolen bases.
Before a game in Cincinnati, Jackie Robinson was having racial slurs thrown at him by the crowd. The shortstop, white, of course, walked across the field and put his arm around his teammate. Because that was what they were, teammates.
The image is one that teaches us much, of two men, no matter the color of their skin, standing side by side, and destroying the color line.
But the line still remained in other places, including buses.

Andrew C. Abbott

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