Continued from Part II of the week long tribute to African American ballplayers in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Officials weren’t the only ones who were leery of having a Negro play in the majors. Some of the Dodgers, in a movement spearheaded by second baseman Dixie Walker, began “plotting” against the idea of having Robinson in a Brooklyn uniform. Once manager Leo Durocher caught wind of their intentions, he quickly called a team meeting and told the rebels “I don’t care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a fucking zebra. I’m manager of this team, and I say he plays. What’s more, I say he can make us all rich. An’ if you can’t use the money, I’ll see that you’re traded” (Golenbock; 18).

The white press would continue to attack Rickey and Robinson, especially writers from the Deep South. Atlanta Journal sports editor Ed Danforth wrote “I don’t see why a top flight Negro ballplayer would be so anxious to play in the white leagues when he is doing so well in his own organization” (Tygiel; 74). “George White of the Dallas News described the Dodger action as ‘unfair’ to both Robinson and the South, where an established way of life was threatened” (Tygiel; 74).

The black press would begin to levy an unfair burden upon Robinson’s shoulders. They saw Robinson as a figure head that would spearhead a Civil Rights movement. “Sam Lacy cast Robinson in the role of a greater ‘national benefactor’ than President Truman. ‘Alone Robinson represents a weapon far more potent than the combined forces of all our liberal legislation,’ contended Lacy” (Tygiel; 75). Wendell Smith, a prominent figure in the black media, wrote that Robinson had “the hopes, aspirations, and ambitions of thirteen million black Americans heaped upon his broad, sturdy shoulders” (Tygiel; 75).

Robinson officially broke the color barrier in baseball on Opening Day of the 1947 season. The Brooklyn Dodgers played the Boston Braves at Ebbets Field in a game that “went off without a hitch”. Arthur Daley, of the New York Times wrote of the game;

“The debut of Jackie Robinson was quite uneventful, even though he had the unenviable distinction of snuffing out a rally by hitting into a remarkable double play. [...] The muscular Negro minds his own business and shrewdly makes no effort to push himself. He speaks quietly and intelligently when spoken to and already has made a strong impression.” (Daley; 32).

It wasn’t until the series with the Braves ended that Robinson began to face the racism that would follow him throughout his career. The Philadelphia Phillies followed the Braves into Brooklyn, and led by their manager Benjamin Chapman, began to verbally assault Robinson with everything they had;

“And Jackie Robinson was a nigger. He was also snowflake and Little Black Sambo. He was accused of sleeping with the white wives of his teammates. He was told he was spreading contagious diseases among his teammates, and his teammates were browbeaten with that time-honored phrase of bigots-nigger lover. The intensity of the attacks were beyond what anyone had ever heard. Chapman vilified Robinson every chance he had. [...] The language was so vile that National League President Ford Frick ordered Chapman to cease and desist.” (Allen; 130-31).

Chapman would later blame Robinson for keeping him out of the Hall of Fame, and pointed to this incident as “bad press” for his career. In his biography written by Arnold Rampersad, Robinson recalled the series with the Phillies and described it as one he would never forget. Robinson wrote;

“Tuesday April 22, 1947, off all the unpleasant days in my life, brought me nearer to cracking up that I ever had been.’ Starting to the plate in the first inning, I cold 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!” (Rampersad; 172).

And Chapman, the ring leader, wondered why he was never inducted into the Hall of Fame.

To be continued.