Black History Month 2016 – Jackie Robinson

Update: I talked about reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin last week. Well, I got it from the library and started reading it last Thursday night. In the introduction, they talk about the impact of Stowe’s book on society. Novels were written at that time to bring readers into current events through a relatable medium, if people were able to get them and read them. Along with gossip, these books were big topics of discussion when women got together with each other to do domestic things like quilting and cooking. I think novels and movies are written and produced for some of the same reasons now. It can be an easier way to understand things that happen, as long as the author writes a good story about it.

Baseball is a big sport in our house. So much so, we give up most of our summer of going to the cabin to be involved in it. Both of the boys play on high school teams in the spring and travelling teams in the summer. As we were getting them signed up this year, I saw a post about Jackie Robinson on Facebook. And, that’s where the inspiration for this week’s blog came from, continuing on the theme of Black History Month.

Jackie Robinson was born on January 31, 1919. He played football, basketball, baseball and track in high school and college. He had to drop out of college due to financial hardship, but started to play football outside of college. His football career was cut short when the US entered World War II. He served as a second lieutenant in the US Army, but he never saw combat. During boot camp in 1944 he was arrested and court martialed after refusing to give up his seat and move to the back of the bus. His reputation, help from the NAACP, and black newspapers brought what happened to light and he was acquitted of the charges and given an honorable discharge. His courage and moral objections in this case would be a precursor to how he would handle his experience in Major League Baseball.

After his discharge from the Army, Jackie started playing professional baseball. Due to segregation, the blacks played on different teams than the whites did. Robinson started out playing in the negro leagues until Branch Rickey gave him the chance to play for the Montreal Royals, the farm team for the Brooklyn Dodgers. After about a year on the farm club, he was moved up to play for the majors on April 15, 1947 at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.

Even though Jackie was a good baseball player, he was still given a hard time because he was black. Not only by players and fans of the other teams, but from some of his own team mates. Rickey and Joe Durocher, the Dodger’s manager, wouldn’t tolerate that kind of treatment of Robinson on their team. They coached Robinson to be strong and not fight all of the hate people were showing him because of his color. His ability to do this, showed an inner strength that Robinson had about himself and the fact that he knew he was good enough to be there, regardless of what other people had to say.

The movie 42 gave us a look of what it was like for Robinson to break the color line and become the first black baseball player to play in the majors. We took Max and Mitch to see 42 in the theater when the movie originally came out. As we walked out of the theater afterwords, both of the boys commented how sad it was that everyone treated Robinson and other black players differently just because they were colored.

Other players like Curt Roberts, Ernie Banks and Willie Mays followed in his foot steps and continued to break down the color line in baseball. Curt Roberts was the first to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Branch Rickey signed him up for the team just like he did for Robinson. Rickey liked his calm personality and hoped that it would help him deal with the heckling that he would encounter. Roberts only made it for one year, as his batting average fell, he was cut the next year.

Ernie Banks said,

“I tried to get along with people who did not normally associate with blacks. I let them know there’s good and bad in every ethnic group.”

Robinson was also the first black player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1962. Banks was inducted in 2011 while Mays was inducted in 1979. When they asked Robinson what he would like his legacy to be, he replied,

“I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me… All I ask is that you respect me as a human being.” – Robinson on his legacy.

Through the research that I have done this month into the lives of these black Americans, I have seen some very disturbing trends in how people in our country were treated. My Mom always said that we shouldn’t be mean to people because they are different from us. Didn’t we all hear that when we were younger? If we did, then why are we continuing to do it?

Robinson and other black baseball players broke the color line and played a game that was seen as all white before. Blacks and other races have had to break a color line to get to do many things that other people are able to do here in America. I think over time people have become more accepted, but they are still not truly respected by all.

Black History Month 2016 – Frederick Douglass

I was interested in Abraham Lincoln when I was growing up. He seemed to be someone that was in touch with the people, and some one who they could talk to. Along with who he was and his fight to abolish slavery both showed me his compassion for the rights of other people.

Abolitionist was kind of a weird word for me to understand when we were learning about slavery in school. I couldn’t tell which side they were on. I think it was confusion about the fact that they were fighting against slavery and angry with white people. Over the years I’ve been learning how much of our country’s history I don’t know, due to a definite slant on how it was told in history books. The idea of slavery was so unclear, because people didn’t want us to know what was being done to the slaves. I think this was one of the reasons I was drawn to blog on the subject of Black History Month, to try and get a better understanding.

In celebration of his birthday this week, I decided to focus my blog on Frederick Douglass, a human rights leader in the anti-slavery movement. He was also an intellectual adviser to United States presidents on causes including slavery, women’s rights and Irish Home Rule. Like I wrote about in the blog about Carter G. Woodson a couple of weeks ago, Douglass was also one of the key figures that Black History Month was started in honor of.

According to biography.com, he was born into slavery on a plantation in Eastern Maryland. Even though he was born in February, the actual day wasn’t always documented for slaves. He adopted February 14th as his birthday because his mother Harriet, who died when he was eight, called him her little valentine. He initially lived with his maternal Grandmother, Betty Bailey after his mother’s death, but at a young age, he was taken from his family to live in the homes of other plantation owners in the area, one of whom may have even been his father.

When he was sent to the Baltimore home of Hugh Auld, Douglass was taught the alphabet by Auld’s wife Sophia. When he found out that his wife was teaching the slaves to read, he forbade her to continue. This opened up the door for Douglass to want to learn more, which he did from the white children and others in the neighborhood. The start of his education at this point in his life would lead him to the successes that he would have later on.

It was through education and reading that Douglass’s ideological opposition to slavery began to take shape. He found more and more journals and newspapers to expand his knowledge. While he was hired out to William Freeland, he also started to share this information with other slaves and taught them how to read at weekly church services. Freeland didn’t mind, but other slave owners in the area did. Armed with clubs and stones, they dispersed the congregation permanently.

After that, he was sent to work for Edward Covey, who was known as a “slave breaker”. He worked his slaves really hard and with constant abuse. He almost broke the spirit of a then sixteen year old Douglass. One day, he did fight back against Covey and won. It was a definite turning point in his life. He relived that event in his first autobiography and said that Covey left him alone after that fight.

There were many stories of slave escapes. Some slaves even died trying to do it. Douglass had tried to escape slavery twice and failed twice. When he finally succeeded, he made it to a safe house in New York, married Anna Murray in 1838, and he began to attend abolitionist meetings where he met William Lloyd Garrison, a radical abolitionist. Garrison wrote a weekly journal called The Liberator that Douglass subscribed to. He began to share his experiences at the meetings and became a regular speaker. Garrison mentored Douglass and urged him to write his first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, in 1845.

After the book was published, Douglass traveled overseas to Liverpool to evade recapture. He stayed there for two years during the potato famine in Ireland and spoke at different events about the evils of slavery. During this time, Douglass’s British supporters gathered funds to purchase his legal freedom. In 1847 he returned to the United States a free man.

While I was researching Douglass’ background, a connection between Douglass, Garrison and Harriet Beecher Stowe came to light. In an article on PBS.org, Garrison and Douglass were not getting along due to a difference of opinion, so Stowe thought she could try and help them to reconcile. Stowe wrote a letter to Garrison about her impressions of Douglass on December 19, 1853.  She believed that his convictions were based on “growth from the soil and his own mind.” Garrison believed that Douglass was disagreeing with him and just going along with the less radical abolitionists. Her hope to reconcile these two former friends would not be realized.

The fact that her family was so involved in the anti-slavery movement was also very interesting to me. Like Douglass, she also lost her mother as a young child. Her father was involved and his abolitionist attitude was reinforced in his children.

One more interesting thing about Stowe, according to HarrietBeecherStoweCenter.org, is why she wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin,

I wrote what I did because as a woman, as a mother, I was oppressed and broken-hearted with the sorrows and injustice that I saw, as a Christian I felt dishonor to Christianity. As a lover of my country, I trembled at the coming day of wrath.

Stowe’s family was involved in the Underground Railroad and were helping slaves secure their freedom by hiding them in their own home on their way to Canada. Interesting how all of these people were connected by the anti-slavery movement. Stowe and Garrison were white and working towards abolishing slavery with Douglass.

After I came across this connection, I decided to add Uncle Tom’s Cabin to my reading list. Through all of the reading that I have done, I found that haven’t read it yet. I would like to see how Stowe tells the story. It is on hold at the library for me right now.

Writing is a journey. This year’s blogs have all taken on a mind and direction of their own. It has been fun to write them and see where they end up. For Black History Month, this entry brought a couple of white abolitionists to play roles in developing the main subject, Frederick Douglass. It was good to see that white people that were also fighting against slavery right along with the blacks. The way that discrimination has developed in our country has made it a strong black versus white issue. Looks like even some white Americans were trying to make things right.