Sunday, April 15, 2007

Mr. Robinson & My Dad

The early history of the game of baseball in the United States, is made complex by the wide variety of amateur and professional teams, clubs and leagues that existed. At various points during the 1800s, there were instances of black and white men playing on the same team or competing against one another. But in the 1870s, players were segregated when black men were prohibited from playing Professional Baseball. This change gave rise to Professional Negro Leagues which grew out of a variety of amateur black teams. Professional Baseball in the U.S remained segregated until 1947 when Jackie Robinson was hired to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. That was 60 years ago today.

In 1950, Mr. Robinson made a movie called The Jackie Robinson Story, where he played himself. Many years later in the 1960s, my Dad went in the hospital for surgery. I was too young to be allowed to visit him, so I wrote him a letter. That same day I had watched “The Jackie Robinson Story” on television. I sat down and wrote to my Dad what turned into something like a book report or a movie review. I told my Dad all about Mr. Robinson, what a great baseball player he was and how he was the first black man allowed to play in the major leagues. I also told Dad how mean and unfair people had been to Mr. Robinson. My Dad loved that letter. I loved my Dad. In my mind, Dad and Jackie Robinson are inextricably linked.

I now know that my letter must have meant something more to my Dad, at a deeper level. My parents were born in the 1920s, here in the U.S., into white working class families. It was an era when all kinds of prejudice were not only the social norm, but supported by law. When Dad and Mom married, they made a conscious decision not to allow prejudice to flow down to their children. It would be decades before I learned about that decision. But when I wrote that letter to my Dad about Mr. Robinson, my parents must have been gratified at a level a little kid couldn’t grasp. Especially a little kid who had been raised to believe that everyone was created equal.


Purple Ronnie said...

Hi Lee! What a lovely story! As a white South African who also grew up in a white working class family - also in an era famously known as 'Apartheid', I can completely relate. Here, it was not only supported by the government, but legislated too! Our country has gone through many struggles and we are still struggling to rid ourselves of the legacy left by our predecessors. Change is slow, but nearly 12 years after freedom, we are getting there I believe...
Thanks for the reminder!

Pink Granite said...

My thanks to you, Ronnie.
Sweeping and positive upheaval, such as the end of Apartheid, is still wrenching to the entire society. I am so glad to hear your account of the progress in South Africa.
Staying vigilant in standing up for human rights, helps us all.
- Lee