#723 – Dick Bernard: 42

Yesterday we went to the film “42“, based on the true story of Jackie Robinson’s breaking the color-line in major league baseball in 1947. Eighth grade grandson, Ryan, who enjoys baseball went along, and approved.
We’d highly recommend the film to anyone. Twin Cities showtimes are readily accessible here. If not from this area, simply enter 42 in your search engine, and similar information will come up for your area.
Imperfect as race relationships remain to this day, it is difficult to imagine the hostile environment that faced Jackie Robinson when he decided to accept Branch Rickey’s offer to break through the color barrier for “America’s game” in 1946.
I was six years old at the time, and WWII had just ended, and there were black units who served with the distinction in the military. But they were segregated, and in other areas the racial division was clear and dangerous to cross.
In 1947, I lived in the middle of North Dakota, and there was no television, and as best as I can recall, no newsreels calling attention to Robinson in the very rare movies we saw. In the 40s, the closest I would come to experiencing blackness was Little Black Sambo, a popular kids book, which really related more to India than Africa, but nonetheless stereotyped black people.
So, Jackie Robinson’s story on film, as it reflected 1947, was important for me to see in person.
Robinson deserves iconic status, including the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.
While I watched, I became most interested in the numerous subparts of his story: how, for just one instance, Pee Wee Reese, a well known baseball name to me as a kid, came to play a significant part in the drama of 1947; or how the non-business side of Dodgers owner Branch Rickey had a strong impact on Rickey’s crucial decision to bring up a “Negro” player to the Major Leagues.
But more than the movie story itself, I found myself thinking of vignettes from my own life that put into context the whole business of integration in this country.
Seventy-four years had passed since the Emancipation Proclamation when Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson integrated major league baseball in April, 1947.
Ten years later, in central North Dakota Sep 16, 1957, I saw Louis Armstrong and his band play a concert in person. I didn’t know till many years later that the previous night, Armstrong and ensemble were the first blacks ever to stay in Grand Forks ND’s hotel. When I saw Armstrong, the national news was concentrating on the integration of Little Rock Central High School. In fact, in Grand Forks, on television, Louis Armstrong spoke out his outrage about what was happening to those little children in Arkansas.
A few years late, in 1963, in the Army in South Carolina, I saw for the first time “colored” entrances and drinking fountains, and all sorts of machinations to make sure that the races stayed separate and unequal, even in the face of mandated movement towards equality. The story goes on and on….
My 8th grade grandson, watching yesterday, is likely only vaguely aware of the long struggle towards some semblance of equality of opportunity in this country. His generation is less likely to be taught to hate than mine.
It will probably require the death of most of my generation to create some semblance of color-blindness in our country.
In the meantime, later pace-setters who take big risks like Jackie Robinson took, depend on each one of us to be their Pee Wee Reese’s, to do some of the heavy lifting to bring meaning to the phrase “created equal”. (The original Constitution and Declaration of Independence, of course, reserve that right to White Men of Privilege and there has been over 200 years of struggle to get us to where we are today.)
I don’t think we’ll go backwards, but it will take continuing effort on our parts to help continue the move forwards to “liberty and justice for all” (from our Pledge of Allegiance).
UPDATE from Bruce, May 26: 42 is the only # in Major League Baseball that has been retired by all teams. For my money, Jackie Robinson is right next to MLK, Jr.
from Bob, May 26: I was 10 years old in 1947 and my Dad was the town team manager where I grew up in Iowa, just off the old Lincoln Highway. We had about two black families in Carroll who worked for the railroad – so I had the advantage of looking up to one of their sons who excelled in high school sports, and academically. So when I became aware of the resistance to Jackie Robinson, I was upset. In 1948 the Cleveland Indians brought up Larry Doby in center field, the first black in the American League. I could recite the entire lineup of the 1948 Indians, my favorite team because they had Bobby Feller, the heater from Van Meter, Iowa. A few years latter I traveled with a friend to visit his relatives from Cleveland, and was appalled to hear his brother-in-law spill out all kinds of racist venom with regard to the Blacks now on Indians, and also those Mexicans on the team. They had Doby in center, big Luke Easter on first and Bobby Avila at 2nd. I remain so grateful to my parents who were not racist and Dad applauded the arrival of Black players in the majors. I never heard them use the N word. There were always some traveling Black teams from the south that would come through and play local town teams. Dad was a pitcher and remembered throwing against a team who called themselves the Tennessee Rats.
I found the movie to be very moving.
From Will, May 27: I know you have an open mind on most issues so I invite you to and your readers to check a long but compelling book, “The Angela Davis Reader.”
Frome Jermitt, May 27: Dick: I believe personal experiences greatly impact most attitudes toward race, gender, religion and other values. I also saw the movie “42” with my grandson who is 13. It provided me with a wonderful opportunity to share many of my personal experiences relating to race relations with him and explain how these experiences help to mold my attitudes. Some of my experiences I shared with my grandson following the movie that had a great impact on my life included:
1. My first personal exposure to the discriminatory practices relating to race occurred in 1954 while in the Army and stationed at Camp Pickett, Virginia. Growing up in a rural community in South Dakota, I had no contact with any other race other than my own German heritage. Visiting several Virginia communities, I not only observed separate bathrooms, water fountains, barber shops, for white and black people, but intolerable behaviors of white people toward black people.
2. Teacher in an all-black intercity school in Milwaukee in the 1960’s was an exceptional learning experience for me. The learning environment for students was demoralizing at best. In my own teacher conditions, I had to teach six of seven class periods per day. My class size ranged from a low of 35 to a high of 38 students per day. The teaching materials (text and library books, science equipment and materials, etc.) , as meager as they were, were also in very bad condition. But this was all overshadowed with wonderful relationships with my students that were grounded in respect, high expectations, tolerance and humor. It created my appreciation of human dignity demonstrated by my students against odds that are not tolerated by most white cultures in the United States.
3. While teaching at this school, I had the privilege of developing a friendship with Henry Aaron. This provided me with a deeper appreciation for the challenges faced by black baseball players in the culture of baseball in the 1960’s. When Mr. Aaron was breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record, he and many family members were threatened with personal harm, creating also a psychological challenge that he had to overcome.
Even though these stories were shared with my grandson prior to this evening, he had a much better understanding of the challenges of relationships; race, religion, social status and other following our common experience of watching the movie, 42. I have often used movie scenes in working with groups to further their organizational development, because a well-crafted movie has the capacity to engage the viewer on an emotional level, and connect more readily to a concept. The power of a well-told story to advance social change is incalculable.
From Will, May 31: I may be one of the few of you who saw Robinson play, v. Cubs in Wrigley Field.

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