The defaced statute of Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese outside the home of the Mets’ Class A Brooklyn Cyclones is an opportunity to revisit an important chapter of American history. That’s because that chapter is filled with significant overtones for the present.
After Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play in the major leagues in 1947, he faced serious racial opposition. Fans, opposing players and even some of his own teammates shunned him. Throughout his career, he dealt with jeers, racial epithets, and death threats aimed at him and his family. Nevertheless, he showed tremendous poise and courage not only through his stellar performance on the field but his display of character outside the game.
His example contributed to the shifting political winds in Cold War America that ultimately brought about other important changes. Although civil rights organizations such as the NAACP had long been pressing for desegregation on all fronts, Robinson and his manager Branch Rickey demonstrated on a national stage that integration was possible. But there were other stakeholders as well. African American and Jewish sports writers, for instance, led the way dedicating great time and energy to pushing for the full integration of the game—a fact that makes the inclusion of anti-Semitic language and symbols on the statute all the more powerful. The collective action of civil rights pioneers and activists on many fronts soon paid off. In 1954, the United States Supreme Court declared separate but equal in public education unconstitutional clearing the way for the desegregation of American schools. The following October the Dodgers won the World Series, the capstone of the ambitious experiment to integrate baseball but also a confirmation of the power and promise of diversity. Brooklyn won the championship, but America claimed the larger victory affirming a commitment to our core democratic values of freedom and democracy. (The Hartford Guardian)
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