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 Ebbets Field, Dodger celebrations and the Rickey-Robinson meeting aid 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.
This tour runs for 3 – 4 hours, includes substantial walking and 2 or 3 subway rides.
Montague Street Entrance to the Promenade. Nearest Subway 2 or 3 train to Clark Street in Brooklyn.
New York, NY
Since 1987 I have indulged my passion for New York by giving classes, lectures and tours of its history. My focus is to go beyond the usual who-what-where-when and into the why and how – illustrated, for example, by a simple bend in a road, shape of a building or site of a church. Among those that have sponsored my tours are the Museum of Natural History and New York University, not to mention groups of all kinds around the world. I am a registered New York City tour guide, a member of the bar, and the author of a coming book on the ties between the history of New York and that of baseball.