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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Sixty Years Ago Today

Jackie Robinson made his Major baseball League debut.

Richard Justice at the Houston Chronicle has an article about the anniversary. This passage is noteworthy:

When Branch Rickey summoned him to the big leagues 60 years ago today, he pleaded for patience.

"I know you're a good ballplayer," Rickey told him. "What I don't know is whether you have the guts."

Robinson asked: "Mr. Rickey, are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?"

Rickey shot back: "I'm looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back."

During games he endured a great deal of mistreatment without protest. Whether he realized it or not, his detractors were doing his work for him; their ugliness offended the go-along-to-get-along sensibilites of many in the "Silent Generation" that led what was the most rapid healing of ethnic strife in the history of civilization.

The time for protest did eventually come:

Only when he was secure as a ballplayer did he use a platform rare to blacks to push for more change. Perhaps the real lesson of Jackie Robinson is about social responsibility. He was determined to leave the world better than he found it.

He attended rallies, fired off angry telegrams and lent his name to causes. There was a 1957 letter to President Eisenhower on the subject of civil rights.

"I read your statement in the papers advising patience," he wrote. "We are wondering to whom you are referring when you say we must be patient. It is easy for those who haven't felt the evils of a prejudicial society to urge it."

And there was a 1961 note to President Kennedy.

"I thank you for what you have done so far," he wrote, "but it is not how much has been done but how much more there is to do."

And a 1965 telegram to President Johnson.

"Important you take immediate action in Alabama. One more day of savage treatment by legalized hatchet men could lead to open warfare by aroused Negroes. America cannot afford this in 1965."

Here is a Robinson quote from Brainyquote:

I'm not concerned with your liking or disliking me... All I ask is that you respect me as a human being.

Play ball.

Update: Douglas Adams fans may find significance in that Robinson's number was 42.

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