His powerful fist shattered the faces of the jukeboxes upon his exit, while his face twisted in rage and disgust. Surrounding him, teammates did the same as a torrent of uniforms stormed from the Texas establishment. A few minutes earlier, peaceful baseball players entered for a meal. Chaos began with just four words from the manager’s lips, “You can’t eat here.”
When Tommy Aaron (brother to Hank Aaron) and Billy Lucas (brother-in-law to Aaron) entered the restaurant, they were asked to leave. So Aaron and Lucas left, followed by the rest of their team. In 1961, desegregation was only beginning. Black athletes still slept in separate hotels than whites, because the fight for equality was ongoing.
“[This incident] was disturbing to the whole team, because [to us] there was no black and white, no color barrier of any kind. We respected each other’s abilities. We rooted for each other, and … that was just a disgrace to the black players. From then on, we showed solidarity to each other,” recalled Mr. Corky Withrow, a former St. Louis Cardinals outfielder and KHSAA Hall of Famer.
Withrow also remembers the All-American City basketball tournament at Kentucky Wesleyan College in 1957, when Mississippi State was pitted against Iona University, whose jersey was worn by several African Americans. Before game time, the governor of Mississippi called his athletes home because “black and white were not mixed at the time,” Withrow explained.
Throughout his career, one athlete broke the color barrier. At the plate, he stood with pride, unaffected by the spitting remarks from the sidelines and field. He combatted racial slurs and discrimination. He completely altered the sports world, turning it upside down by mixing cultures, races and ideas.
“You have to respect a player that knows that he is going to get the abuse, the name calling and the cussing, … but still you had him [in the] situation that changed the face of baseball forever,” Withrow said. “Thank goodness for Jackie Robinson. The whole Major League should be thankful for a person like [him].”
Today, stadium lights illuminate fields on which black skin lines up next to white, on which Caucasian hands shake those of African Americans where equality reigns. The intense work of previous athletes should not be forgotten. The fact that rosters are filled with players of all ethnicities and backgrounds should be appreciated.
In sports, race doesn’t matter. Ability does. Passion does. Hard work does. Talent knows no racial barrier. Thank you to all players who made that possible. Thank you for your sweat and willingness to work despite hate. Thank you for your tears, competing despite hurt. Thank you for your radical stance, continuing the fight to prove that all men are created equal, both on and off the field and court.