Monday, March 30, 2009

Breaking the color barrier

This isn't really about international baseball, but it is about baseball on the outside of the main stream. It seems that the color barrier of whites and blacks playing together was broken before Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers. And where did it happen? In the military, of course.

Several months before Jackie Robinson, Paul Phipps broke his own color barrier in baseball.

The year was 1946. After battling the Japanese on Saipan and Iwo Jima as a Marine officer, Phipps received an assignment to oversee sports at separate bases in North Carolina, one for white soldiers like him and one for blacks.

Down a catcher, a black team asked him to join. He accepted.

A year later, a former Army officer named Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers.
While none of this had anything to do with Jackie Robinson getting his chance, the fact that the military finally starting looking the other way must have helped:
In the end, Phipps only played a few months, traveling back to Hopkinton when his wife endured a difficult pregnancy. He resigned his commission in 1947 when he realized Marine life would leave the pair living apart for long stretches.

Several months later, Robinson broke the Major League color barrier, enduring taunts and insults from players and fans. A year later, President Harry Truman ordered the desegregation of the armed forces. Phipps said his actions held no larger import, unlike Robinson or Truman's.
In a society where segregation was legal, and the norm, President Truman's actions were remarkable. It was one of the first instances of segregation being outlawed. This wasn't the only issue that let Jackie Robinson play in the majors, but it must of helped, in some measure. It's hard to convince people that soldiers can fight and die by each other's side, and then tell them they can't sit on the same bench in the dugout together.

I'm willing to bet this wasn't the only instance of a white man playing on a black team. In fact, it's a central plot line in the fantastic book, Ice Man, by Weldon Hill. I'm willing to bet there it happened many times, and I'm also willing to bet that there were a lot of black players who got a chance to play with white teams.

Not every white person connected with baseball before 1947 was racist. Just a few of them who were given way more power to decide issues like this than was needed.

Fortunately, there have always been people willing to go against the tide, and try to make a difference.

1 comment:

tHeMARksMiTh said...

There's a site called that has a bunch of tapes from past presidents. There's one by FDR on desegregating the military. It's an incriminating tape for those who love FDR.