Classes, Lectures & Tours
Jackie Robinson’s Brooklyn
It is said that if Jackie Robinson was the ideal man to integrate baseball, then Brooklyn was the ideal place. How was Brooklyn the ideal place?
No other major league team – no other major league community – in 1947 was willing to sponsor the sight of a black man on the field. Brooklyn welcomed it. The sites of Dodger celebrations, the Rickey-Robinson meeting and Ebbets Field help in understanding the story.
A connection always exists, however, between the character of the land and the culture that arises there. This is emphatically so of Brooklyn. We will see that it is the physical nature of the borough that so predisposed its people to accept and then embrace this man.
As modern baseball’s first black player, Jackie Robinson forced the nation to begin addressing racism well beyond sport. Largely traceable to Robinson are the integration of the military, of public schools and of American society generally, and the Civil Rights Act itself. The first obstacle was baseball’s hierarchy: in a secret meeting just before Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in the spring of 1947, the owners voted 15-1 against.
Brooklyn was alone.
In that first year Robinson is said to have been knocked down in every game. (A newspaper reported that July, “Jackie Robinson can usually count on the first pitch being right under his nostrils.”) One spiking nearly ended his career. Several death threats were taken to the police. In the middle of the season a doctor ordered ten days complete bed rest, warning Robinson that he was approaching a nervous breakdown. Robinson refused.
So torrid was the abuse that even his southern teammates rallied around him at last, and the question around the National League went from “Can he take it?” to “For how long?”
The drama unfolded in the little ballpark in the heart of Flatbush.