I’ve given it a lot of thought: it’s still an insult.
I’m talking about Jackie Robinson’s integration of Major League Baseball way back in 1947. Or, more specifically, the condition and conditions under which said integration took place.
Yes, I’ve seen “42.” Darned good movie. Excellent, in fact. And it’s based on a great story.
My assessment of Robinson’s breaking the color line in Major League Baseball’s modern era in no way reflects my feelings about Robinson. He was, and will always remain, a major American hero.
No, my target here is the man I targeted some 16 years ago, when the 50th anniversary brouhaha about Robinson’s integration of MLB was going on.
That would be none other than Branch Rickey, the man that owned the then-Brooklyn Dodgers, and the one that brought Robinson from the Negro Leagues to integrate MLB.
Rickey has been hailed as a liberal visionary, a man who went against the grain and popular opinion by integrating MLB. He’s viewed as a courageous champion of equal rights. Indeed, that’s how he’s portrayed in the film.
All of that is true; it’s also true with a huge “BUT” attached to it.
Yes, Rickey integrated MLB. But he imposed conditions on Robinson that were downright insulting.
Rickey asked – actually, it was more like demanded – that Robinson meekly submit to every racist, bigoted insult hurled at him. The notion was that if Robinson fought back, it would reflect on black people in general.
So WE were the ones facing Jim Crow, segregation, poverty, inadequate housing, discrimination in housing and the job market, LYNCHING, and WE were the ones that had to prove we were fit to integrate?
Rickey had the right idea; he was just wrong as wrong can be about which race had to prove it was civilized. Had that been Rickey’s only sin, it might be easy to forgive him.
But Rickey made some comments about blacks in general that reflected he might not have been as liberal on the race issue as is generally thought.