Today is the 70th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first major league appearance.
Jackie Robinson’s importance to sport and society is enormous. But when this site Eyewitness to History states that Jackie Robinson was the “first Black player in major league baseball”, it is incorrect. As this site from the Library of Congress notes, there were Black players in the 19th century.
Jackie Robinson broke “baseball’s color barrier”, as the Baseball Hall of Fame put it, but it was a wall that was once down, then rebuilt.
Wikipedia writes that Robinson “became the first African American Major League Baseball player of the modern era in 1947”, and that would be correct, the “modern era” usually referring to the advent of the American League in 1901. However, Wikipedia’s list of first black Major League Baseball players by team and date would be more accurate if it indicated “since 1900” or another qualifying term.
This in no way meant to diminish the contribution made by and courage shown by Jackie Robinson, though I’ve long thought that he, needing to control his rage against the taunts he experienced when he broke the color line in Major League Baseball, shortened his life; he was only 53 when he died. Tomorrow is the 70th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first major league appearance. Dozens of players, managers and coaches will be wearing Robinson’s number 42, which had been retired two decades ago.
My father was a lifelong Dodgers fan because of Jackie, while I rooted for the Yankees, one of the last two teams, along with the Boston Red Sox, to have a black player in the modern era. My rooting interest came from geography, my father’s from history.
(CREDIT: “Jackie Robinson comic book.” Greenwich, CT: Fawcett Publications, July 1951. Vol. 1, no. 5. By Popular Demand: Jackie Robinson and Other Baseball Highlights, 1860s-1960s, Library of Congress. )
Reprinted from my December 21st, 2005 blog, with additional info.
“A pledge reciter, who recites the words ‘liberty for all’ and yet accuses non-pledge reciters of un-patriotism, is breaking their oath as they speak.”
There’s a woman named Sara Niccoli, a farmer and a town supervisor in Montgomery County, who is running for the New York State Senate. The way districts are gerrymandered, the 46th District includes part of Albany County, but not the city of Albany. Otherwise, I would have supported her.
Her religious beliefs came under attack “after an anonymous Facebook page dubbed ‘The REAL Sara Niccoli’ posted” late in June “about the candidate’s [long-standing] decision not to recite” the Pledge of Allegiance.
“‘As we commemorate the birth of our nation and all those who gave so much to ensure its place as the ‘Shining City on a Hill,’ it’s unacceptable that [she refuse] to recite the Pledge… Tell Sara Niccoli to honor America!’
“Niccoli, who follows Quaker beliefs that followers do not take pledges or oaths, said …that she does stand and place her hand over her heart to salute the flag. She said the post, which makes no mention of her faith, underscores a need for Americans to revisit ‘what it means to be a patriot and how to act out our patriotism.'” She is probably alluding to Matthew 5:33-37, the Biblical invective against making oaths.
Sara Niccoli continues: “‘That means when we see attacks on faith, when we see attacks based on race or any kind of intolerance, we need to call it out, whether it’s coming from a politician pandering for votes or it’s coming out in the anonymous world of social media,’ Niccoli said. “What’s going on here…is very much a reflection of what’s going on at the federal level, and people who are sort of sitting on the sidelines disgusted by the hate and intolerance that they see, they need to get up and do something about it.”
Some came to Niccoli’s defense in the comment section of the Facebook post, though many of those were apparently deleted. Naturally, the verbiage became nasty, with profanity, “while one comment offered nothing more than an emoji of a handgun.”
Her friend and my fellow Times Union blogger Walter Ayres wrote a sterling defense in Sara, the Quaker patriot, noting “Quakers are not the only ones whose beliefs are misunderstood. Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, Mennonites, Amish, and others have beliefs that are not always in line with the majority views on serving in the military, taking oaths and/or pledging allegiance…we should respect their right to abstain from these activities as much as we rejoice in our ability to participate in them.”
It occurred to me that her position is not dissimilar to what I’ve been reading in Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw. The Litany of Resistance from Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw says, among other things: One: To the transnational Church that transcends the artificial borders of nations All: We pledge allegiance
Found in Goodreads, Claiborne notes, “Some folks may be really bummed to find that ‘God bless America’ does not appear in the Bible.” Or as John Pavlovitz put it: “The heart of our Christian story is that God is not in a nation-maker or an empire-builder. God is a soul-lover.”
In this discussion, I’ve discovered a number of folks I know who, in their words, “do not pledge allegiance to a piece of cloth.” I can’t remember who wrote, “A pledge reciter, who recites the words ‘liberty for all’ and yet accuses non-pledge reciters of un-patriotism, is breaking their oath as they speak.” It is a form of Christo-Americanism, a “distorted form of Christianity that blends nationalism, conservative paranoia and Christian rhetoric” that has been especially virulent since 9/11.
Finally, I just came across Has the American Dream Been Achieved at the Expense of the American Negro?, a famous 1965 debate between James Baldwin and William F. Buckley, Jr. Baldwin addresses “What are the psychological effects of oppression?”: “It comes as a great shock around the age of 5, 6, or 7 to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance, along with everybody else, has not pledged allegiance to you.” A half-century later, this still resonates for many people in “the land of the free.”
The core of the incident relayed involved Dr. Strayhorn being pulled over by a police officer after he had purchased a nice new car.
“He said, ‘Do you know why I stopped you?’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Because you don’t look old enough to drive this car.’ It sounded like a compliment, but then I had to remind him—in my head, not out loud—that in this country actually, [when] you get a driver’s license, you’re free to drive any car.”
Of course, the VERY first comment is from a white guy who said HE’D been pulled over for driving while young, so that Dr. Strayhorn should just “get over it.” This, I will tell you, is the tricky nature of racism, which is that maybe, just MAYBE it WAS his age. But a lifelong experience of being black in America tends to mitigate against that.
To the broader question, I certainly have had incidents that have enraged me. I don’t think I’ve told this one.
It was the early 1980s, and I was moving to a new apartment in Albany. In those days, I had to actually GO to New York Telephone and Niagara Mohawk, the power company at the time, to get my services connected. So, I took my lunch hour from FantaCo, the comic store I worked at the time, to arrange these things.
My New York Tel experience was great. These flirty, attractive women were trying to upsell me for services I didn’t want, or need, and didn’t buy. Still, it put me in quite the good mood.
Then I went to NiMo, and talked with this woman at length about getting my gas and electricity. I filled out the form, and she went over it. A previous ZIP Code I lived in was 12309, with included a well-to-do suburb of Schenectady called Niskayuna, though in fact, I was living in the part of Schenectady adjacent to it.
“THAT’S a very expensive neighborhood,” she said, sounding as though she didn’t believe me. I replied, “um-hmm”
We get to the part of the process where we arrange to have the service started. I was moving only three blocks from work, off Lark Street. I suggested that the service person call me at work, and I could run over and be at my apartment in five minutes.
She countered: “Why don’t you leave the door unlocked? You don’t have anything of value anyway.”
I was angry. No, I was livid. I was enraged. Yet, I found the place in my voice to say, “Actually, I DO have things of value.” Eventually, and unhappily, she capitulated to my request.
I got back to work, late, and I’m sure someone pointed that out. I pounded on a desk and said, teeth literally clenched, “I had the worst customer service experience in my life,” and explained the dialogue.
A couple of days later, because I needed to calm down enough to think, I wrote a page and a half long, typed letter to NiMO, expressing my outrage. To their credit, they wrote back an apology and suggested the employee would be reprimanded. Whether that happened, I don’t know.
Note that this woman never called me the N- word, or made any direct, specific racial reference. I could draw the conclusion that questions anyone who lived in a nice neighborhood, or suggested that their possessions were valueless. OR I could draw the conclusion that this was racially motivated.
Now I COULD have lost my cool at the NiMo office. I would have felt totally justified. The problem is that I would have come across as a crazy black man, who just went OFF for no apparent reason.
I’ve long thought that Jackie Robinson, needing to control his rage against the taunts he experienced when he broke the color line in Major League Baseball, shortened his life; he was only 53 when he died. Hey, maybe rage contributes to lower life expectancy among black people – both rage expressed, in violence, and rage suppressed.
Jack Rollins celebrates his 100th birthday. He has managed Harry Belafonte, Woody Allen, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Joan Rivers, Nichols and May, Tony Bennett, Jim Carrey, Dick Cavett, Diane Keaton, David Letterman, and a bunch more.
Apparently, Dancing with the Stars and The Voice are using the arrangements of Postmodern Jukebox without acknowledging the group. Here are their versions of Wiggle (Jason Derulo/Snoop Dogg cover) and Creep (Radiohead cover).
When Jackie Robinson joined major league baseball in 1947, that did not mark the end of racism and segregation.
It’s likely you’ll see a LOT of stories about the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Every single one will marvel at how much progress has been made in America in the area of race, since 1963. Almost all will point to a black President, the current Attorney General, and two recent Secretaries of State as examples. The divergence in opinions come on this point: some will claim that we have “reached the promised land,” making sure to paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr. from that day a half-century ago – as though he were the only speaker there – while others will suggest that we haven’t quite gotten there yet.
When President Obama suggested that we look at race again in light of the Trayvon Martin case, that Obama could have been Trayvon 35 years ago, some, such as Touré at TIME, thought it was a brave personal observation. He wrote: “The assertion that blacks are hallucinating or excuse-making or lying when we talk about the many very real ways white privilege and racial bias and the lingering impact of history impact our lives is painful. It adds insult to injury to attack all assertions of racism and deny its continued impact or existence.”
Others labeled Obama “racist-in-chief”, playing the “race card” and worse. When Former Florida GOP Congressman Joe Scarborough lit into Fox News talk-show host Sean Hannity last month for suggesting that Martin was a messed up teenager who “had it coming” when he was killed by George Zimmerman in their February 2012 confrontation, the bile cast on the Morning Joe host, Martin, his parents, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, among others, by a website I follow was toxic. The always dreadful Ted Nugent said that Martin had been ‘Emboldened’ By Obama, “the first black president as a ‘Black Panther’ running a ‘gangster’ government.”
Here are four charts suggesting Obama’s right about being black in America. Being profiled is, more than anything, disheartening, I can tell you. After George Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering Trayvon, Lavar Burton, the original Kunte Kinte of Roots fame, noted how he had taught his sons to keep their hands open and out of the car. Meanwhile, a white guy on the same show noted that he had once locked his keys in the car, so he tried to break in; a New Orleans police officer stopped him, saying, “No, you’re not doing it right.”
There’s this show on ABC called What Would You Do? It’s a hidden camera show that looks at human psychology. I don’t watch it, but I find it interesting that several of their experiments involve race. A most powerful one involved actors pretending to be bicycle thieves. From this story: When a white young man appeared to be taking a bike, most people didn’t question it. Yet when the African-American actor took his place, “the reactions were more pronounced. At one point, a crowd assembled around the purported thief and confronted him directly. One man pulled out a cellphone and said he was calling the police, which he was about to do until the cameramen filming the event stepped forward.”
When Jackie Robinson joined major league baseball in 1947, that did not mark the end of racism and segregation. It took over a decade before every team had at least one black player. It was 1987, when Al Campanis, general manager of the DODGERS, which was Jackie’s team, rationalized on national TV why there weren’t more blacks in baseball management; I watched it live, stunned. As a direct result, the sport was far more aggressive in making sure minority candidates at least got interviewed for a management position. They took an AFFIRMATIVE ACTION to rectify a system, not of overt racism, but merely cronyism, hiring the guys one already knows.
And speaking of which, the US Supreme Court seems destined to gut the Voting Rights Act and affirmative action, under the mistaken belief that everything is all better now. The economic inequities would otherwise. Almost 400 years have passed since blacks came to America, and that there is still work to be done does not negate the progress. Nor does the progress suggest that Martin, if he were still alive, and his colleagues, some of whom still alive, and their successors, would be resting on their laurels, satisfied that the work is done. *** Leonard Pitts: Living in a time of moral cowardice.
If you could somehow magically bring [Martin Luther King, Jr.] here, that tomorrow would likely seem miraculous to him, faced as he was with a time when segregation, police brutality, employment discrimination, and voter suppression were widely and openly practiced.
Here is tomorrow, after all, the president is black. The business mogul is black. The movie star is black. The sports icon is black. The reporter, the scholar, the lawyer, the teacher, the doctor, all of them are black. And King might think for a moment that he was wrong about tomorrow and its troubles.
It would not take long for him to see the grimy truth beneath the shiny surface, to learn that the perpetual suspect is also black. As are the indigent woman, the dropout, the fatherless child, the suppressed voter, and the boy lying dead in the grass with candy and iced tea in his pocket.