This week celebrated documentary filmmaker Ken Burns aired his latest work on Jackie Robinson on PBS s stations.
I watched and enjoyed seeing that my baseball hero was flawed. I know from being “the only brotha in the room” a lot of my life that the road to integration can be a challenging one to say the least.
And often as we go down that road despite our best intentions we may not be on our best behavior.
I think its key to let young people know that these great people that came before us were human, had struggles and though left a great legacy its not unreachable.
In the past there have been pastors to put the picture of Dr. Martin Luther King on the altar. I disagree with this, because there’s already been enough of making him a deity. For those of us who were born after his death we didn’t see him in action.
Same goes for Jackie Robinson, I wasn’t born until 1976 when the civil rights movement was over and those brothas were deceased.
I love the game of baseball and during my year of serving on my high school team (Brother Rice), as an equipment manager I was the only African American in any of the three levels of baseball. I never had a problem with anyone involved in baseball. We all loved the game, respected the game and got along.
But it can be a lonely place sometimes in any situation where you are the only African American. My late father called it being “the fly in the buttermilk”. He should know, he was one of the first black engineers in the US Navy in the late 1950’s and he caught hell. He served his country and received an Honorable Discharge but there were times he struggled, got in trouble and was frustrated. It helped me understand my father had flaws for as great as he was.
And I love how Ken Burns didn’t hold back with Jackie Robinson’s story, that his political affiliations didn’t follow mainstream African American thought. That he didn’t agree with other African American pioneers likes Paul Robeson.
What you have to understand is that any of “us” who have been on this proverbial “long and winding road” in integration and being one of a few African Americans in a professional situation is that you are independent in all things. In thought, politics and you have confidence that can be mistaken for arrogance.
It can lead to you being in some hostile situations and not agreeing with anyone of any race.
That’s the lonely place that I previously referred to.
Remember Jackie Robinson integrated baseball (April 15, 1947), a full year before President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981 in July of 1948. So this is serious trailblazing here. None of us who may have integrated a group or school or simply been a really small minority can hold a candle to what Jackie did.
And to think he played MVP type baseball while going through that. Trust me baseball is not easy at any level and to play under the stress he did is remarkable but I do know baseball is also an oasis.
For those of us coming up in West Pullman back in the day, playing baseball was our solace, you forgot about issues at home, school, etc, it was all about the game when you were on the field. Same with teammates, yeah you got along with some guys better than others but you were a team.
Also remember Jackie may have been one of the best pure athletes we ever had. He lettered in four sports at UCLA, before Bo Jackson, before Deon Sanders or Dave Winfield, Jackie excelled at football, basketball, track and baseball.
But he was human, his pro career was barely a decade but what he accomplished, the doors he opened for other players.
So we honor him today on the 69th anniversary of his pro game, yes I will be wearing the pictured jersey proudly, for Jackie paved the way for so many of us.
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Filed under: African American History