YAKIMA, Wash., April 14, 2013 – A remarkable event took place on August 28, 1945. That was the day that Branch Rickey met Jackie Robinson for the first time. The meeting ended with a handshake between a white man and a black man sealing a promise, which in 1945 was nothing less than remarkable.
The promise made by Robinson was not to start a physical fight when a racial slur was directed at him.
Branch Rickey, the old Brooklyn Dodgers’ club president and general manager at the time, was serious about signing a black player. The under-lying reason was the increasing attendance of black fans. They were becoming an important segment of the ticket buying public in Brooklyn.
White baseball had come to realize the black population of American would spend even more money on baseball if black players were included; simple economics verses a hostile, segregated America.
The handshake, taken in the context of the time, sealed an agreement that would help change the face of America. It was the first salvo towards the elimination of segregation in baseball. It was also a stepping stone the desegregation of our society, our schools, and our businesses.
Jackie Robinson was the right man for the right job; integrating baseball. To do this, Robinson was subjected to racial epitaphs and humiliations. He was refused a hotel room when he first reported to Daytona Beach, Florida for spring training. Games were cancelled because he was on the team roster.
During all these humiliating times, Jackie did exactly as he promised to Branch Rickey, he turned the other cheek.
While Robinson wasn’t a “great” baseball player, his strong, patient character contributed significantly to the Civil Rights Movement, even before the Civil Rights Movement came to national attention.
It was 1954 before the U.S. Supreme Court handed down Brown V. Board of Education of Topeka, Kanas, which declared separate public schools unconstitutional. The first Freedom Rides didn’t take place until 1961.
And, Martin Luther King, Jr. wouldn’t deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech until August 28, 1963. The speech was a call for eliminating the gap between the reality of segregation and the American Dream for the Negro.
As did Robinson and Rickey, Martin Luther King saw the need to use passive resistance to achieve the dream of equality. The strong character of passive resistance was demonstrated by Jackie Robinson every time he stepped on to the baseball diamond.
The just released movie, 42, shows the nobility of the human spirit when pitted against the crassness of the human heart. The world today is not a simple and it wasn’t simple during the time Robinson and Branch Rickey. What they were attempting was a major shift in the fabric of our society.
The movie is historically accurately and is a must see event for all ages, both male and female. It gives life-like meaning to the events which today we almost take for granted. While the movie may not win an academy award, the number, 42, will be remember and honored each April. On that day, every player on all the teams will wear a special jersey with Jackie Robinson’s number on their backs—number 42.
(Larry Momo writes columns for the Washington Times Community Section and the San Pedro News Pilot.)
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