Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
African American World
Search:
Find what you need on PBS and NPR
Timeline Reference Room Kids Classroom Community Resources
Channels
history
arts & culture
race & society
profiles
Fannie Lou Hamer





History: My Story
My StoryBrain Teaser Sound Off!Free Stuff

Fannie Lou Hamer THE MAJOR LEAGUES: JACKIE ROBINSON PLAYS FOR THE DODGERS

Jackie Robinson initially broke the color barrier from the farm leagues. But the big test came in 1947 when Jackie moved up to the "big show" and put on number 42 for the first time.

"Brooklyn announces the purchase of the contract of Jack Roosevelt Robinson from Montreal. Signed, Branch Rickey."

That morning turned into a press Donnybrook. The sportswriters snatched up telephones. The telegraph wires relayed the message to the sports world.

Less than a week after I became Number 42 on the Brooklyn club, I played my first game with the team. I did a miserable job. There was an overflow crowd at Ebbets Field. If they expected any miracles out of Robinson, they were sadly disappointed. I was in another slump. I grounded out to the third baseman, flied out to left field, bounced into a double play, was safe on an error, and, later, was removed as a defensive safeguard. The next four games reflected my deep slump. I went to the plate twenty times without one base hit. Burt Shotton, a man I respected and liked, had replaced Durocher as manager. As my slump deepened, I appreciated Shotton's patience and understanding. I knew the pressure was on him to take me out of the lineup. People began recalling Bob Feller's analysis of me. I was "good field, no hit." There were others who doubted that I could field and some who hoped I would flunk out and thus establish that blacks weren't ready for the majors. Shotton, however, continued to encourage me.

Early in the season, the Philadelphia Phillies came to Ebbets Field for a three-game series. I was still in my slump and events of the opening game certainly didn't help. Starting to the plate in the first inning, I could scarcely believe my ears. Almost as if it had been synchronized by some master conductor, hate poured forth from the Phillies dugout.

"Hey, nigger, why don't you go back to the cotton field where you belong?"

"They're waiting for you in the jungles, black boy!"

"Hey, snowflake, which one of those white boys' wives are you dating tonight?"

"We don't want you here, nigger."

"Go back to the bushes!"

Those insults and taunts were only samples of the torrent of abuse which poured out from the Phillies dugout that April day.

I have to admit that this day of all the unpleasant days in my life, brought me nearer to cracking up than I ever had been. Perhaps I should have become inured to this kind of garbage, but I was in New York City and unprepared to face the kind of barbarism from a northern team that I had come to associate with the Deep South. The abuse coming out of the Phillies dugout was being directed by the team's manager, Ben Chapman, a Southerner. I felt tortured and I tried just to play ball and ignore the insults. But it was really getting to me. What did the Phillies want from me? What, indeed, did Mr. Rickey expect of me? I was, after all, a human being. What was I doing here turning the other cheek as though I weren't a man? In college days I had had a reputation as a black man who never tolerated affronts to his dignity. I had defied prejudice in the Army. How could I have thought that barriers would fall, that, indeed, my talent could triumph over bigotry?

For one wild and rage-crazed minute I thought, "To hell with Mr. Rickey's 'noble experiment.' It's clear it won't succeed. I have made every effort to work hard, to get myself into shape. My best is not enough for them." I thought what a glorious, cleansing thing it would be to let go. To hell with the image of the patient black freak I was supposed to create. I could throw down my bat, stride over to that Phillies dugout, grab one of those white sons of bitches and smash his teeth in with my despised black fist. Then I could walk away from it all. I'd never become a sports star. But my son could tell his son someday what his daddy could have been if he hadn't been too much of a man.

Then, as I thought of Mr. Rickey - how his family and friends had begged him not to fight for me and my people - I thought of all his predictions, which had come true. Mr. Rickey had come to a crossroads and made a lonely decision. I was at a crossroads. I would make mine. I would stay.

The haters had almost won that round. They had succeeded in getting me so upset that I was an easy out. As the game progressed, the Phillies continued with the abuse.

After seven scoreless innings, we got the Phillies out in the eighth, and it was our turn at bat. I led off. The insults were still coming. I let the first pitch go by for a ball. I lined the next one into center field for a single. Gene Hermanski came up to hit and I took my lead.

The Phillies pitcher, a knuckle expert, let fly. I cut out for second. The throw was wide. It bounced past the shortstop. As I came into third, Hermanski singled me home. That was the game.

For his next two years with the Dodgers, Jackie Robinson did his best to withstand jeers from racist fans and players, intentional collisions and beanings, problems with hotel accommodations and a myriad of other racial slurs.

JUST ANOTHER GUY: TRULY BREAKING THE COLOR BARRIER

I though I had learned the worst there was to learn about racial hatred in America. The year 1949 taught me more. A black man, even after he has proven himself on and off the playing field, will still be denied his rights. I am not talking about the things that happened to me in order to portray myself as some kind of martyr. I am recording them because I want to warn the white world that young blacks today are not willing - nor should they be - to endure the humiliations I did. I suffered them because I hoped to provide a better future for my children and for young black people everywhere, and because I naively believed that my sacrifices might help a little to make America the kind of country it was supposed to be. People have asked me, "Jack, what's your beef? You've got it made." I'm grateful for all the breaks and honors and opportunities I've had, but I always believe I won't have it made until the humblest black kid in the most remote backwoods of America has it made.

It is not terribly difficult for the black man as an individual to enter into the white man's world and be partially accepted. However, if that individual black man is, in the eyes of the white world, an "uppity nigger," he is in for a very hard time indeed. I can just hear my liberal white friends and a lot of Negroes who haven't yet got the word that they are black, protesting such an observation.

The late Malcolm X had a very interesting comment on the "progress" of the Negro. I disagreed with Malcolm vigorously in many areas during his earlier days, but I certainly agreed with him when he said, "Don't tell me about progress the black man has made. You don't stick a knife ten inches in my back, pull it out three or four, then tell me I'm making progress."

Malcolm, in a few well-chosen words, captured the essence of the way most blacks, I believe, think today. Virtually every time the black stands up like a man to make a protest or tell a truth as he sees it, white folks and some white-minded black folks try to hush or shame him by singing out that "You've come a long way" routine. They fail to say that we've still got a long way to go because of the unjust headstart the founding fathers of this country had on us and the handicaps they bestowed on the red men they robbed and the blacks they abducted and enslaved.

Whites are expert game-players in their contests to maintain absolute power. One of their time-honored gimmicks is to point to individual blacks who have achieved recognition: "But look at Ralph Bunche. Think about Lena Horne or Marian Anderson. Look at Jackie Robinson. They made it."

As one of those who has "made it," I would like to be thought of as an inspiration to our young. But I don't want them lied to. The late Dr. Ralph Bunche, a true black man of our time, felt the same way. The "system supporters" will point to the honors heaped on Ralph Bunche. They will play down the fact that he and his son were barred from membership in the New York Tennis Club because of blackness. They will gloss over the historical truth that Mr. Bunche was once offered a high post in the State Department and did not accept because it would have meant Jim Crow schools for his children. Look at Lena Horne, they say. The show business world took this lovely woman and tried to make her into a sepia Marilyn Monroe. They overlooked her dramatic ability and her other talents and insisted that she be cast only in the role of a cheap sexpot. When she refused, they white-listed her out of the film colony. They point to her as a success symbol, but they will go easy on reminding you that she defied the United States Army when she was programmed to sing Jim Crow concerts for the black troops and separate concerts for whites and German prisoners of war in a Southern installation. Lena sang for the black troops only.

If a black becomes too important or too big for his racial britches or if he has too much power, he will get cut down. They will cut him down even when the power the black has doesn't come from the white man, but from grass-roots black masses, as was the case of Harlem Congressman Adam Clayton Powell. With all his faults, Adam was a man who rocked the establishment boat, and the establishment lynched him politically for it. I don't think anyone in or out of sports could ever seriously accuse Willie Mays of offending white sensitivities. But when he was in California, whites refused to sell him a house in their community. They loved his talent, but they didn't want him for a neighbor.

Name them for me. The examples of blacks who "made it." For virtually every one you name, I can give you a sordid piece of factual information on how they have been mistreated, humiliated.

Not being able to fight back is a form of severe punishment. I was relieved when Mr. Rickey finally called me into his office and said, "Jackie, you're on your own now. You can be yourself now."

page 3 of 4
1 2 3 4
continue to next page



Excerpted from I Never Had It Made by Jackie Robinson. Copyright 1995 by Rachel Robinson. Published by arrangement with Ecco Press, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.
feedback privacy policy credits site map pledge printer friendly format