Blackoutby Chris Lamb
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In the spring of 1946, following the defeat of Hitler's Germany, America found itself still struggling with the subtler but no less insidious tyrannies of racism and segregation at home. In the midst of it all, Jackie Robinson, a full year away from breaking major league baseball's color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers, was undergoing a harrowing dress rehearsal for integration-his first spring training as a minor league prospect with the Montreal Royals, Brooklyn's AAA team. In Blackout, Chris Lamb tells what happened during these six weeks in segregated Florida-six weeks that would become a critical juncture for the national pastime and for an American society on the threshold of a civil rights revolution.
Blackout chronicles Robinson's tremendous ordeal during that crucial spring training-how he struggled on the field and off. The restaurants and hotels that welcomed his white teammates were closed to him, and in one city after another he was prohibited from taking the field. Steeping his story in its complex cultural context, Lamb describes Robinson's determination and anxiety, the reaction of the black and white communities to his appearance, and the unique and influential role of the press-mainstream reporting, the alternative black weeklies, and the Communist Daily Worker-in the integration of baseball. Told here in detail for the first time, this story brilliantly encapsulates the larger history of a man, a sport, and a nation on the verge of great and enduring change.
Chris Lamb is an associate professor of media studies at the College of Charleston.
"Lamb's detailed and annotated research provides an in-depth examination of an important step in the integration of baseball, a step that, up until now, has not received the coverage it deserves. Of interest both to baseball fans and social historians."—Booklist
"[A]n important contribution to American Studies."—Choice
"In his richly sourced examination of Robinson's first spring training, Lamb puts readers on the back of a hot Greyhound bus as it makes its way through the Jim Crow South of the mid-1940s. . . . Througout the book Lamb carefully documents who wrote what, analyzing the black press, mainstream dailies, the Daily Worker, a national newspaper for communists, and even southern newspapers. This comprehensiveness in sources is unprecedented in examinations of press coverage of Robinson's life or career, making it a good investment for researchers in the field based on its footnotes alone. The book also deserves credit for turning attention to the black sportswriters who, as the author writes, 'faced their own color line. They were denied press cards, which meant they were prohibited from Major League baseball fields, dugouts, and locker rooms.'"—American Journalism
“Lamb does an excellent job of setting this pivotal episode in baseball history in the larger context of race relations of the South, providing a number of graphic examples of violence against blacks in order to emphasize the dangerous world that Robinson and Wright were entering when they arrived in Florida as new members of the Montreal Royals, Brooklyn’s main minor league team.”—Michael Cocchiarale, Aethlon
"Blackout is the most complete analysis of Robinson's first spring training available as Lamb has probed the press reports to new depths and in the process revealed another facet of the two America's divided along racial lines. Blackout is also a volume that is essential to any understanding of the events of sixty years ago in Florida and their significance for baseball, for Florida, and for America."—Richard Crepeau, Sports Literature Association
"Blackout is well written, engaging, and analytically sound. It is a work that belongs in all baseball libraries as well as those on American social history."—Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
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Read an Excerpt
The Untold Story of Jackie Robinson's First Spring Training
By Chris Lamb
University of Nebraska Press
Copyright © 2006
University of Nebraska Press
All right reserved.
Jackie and Rachel Robinson arrived at Lockheed Terminal
in Los Angeles in the early evening of Thursday, February 28,
1946, to board an American Airlines flight to Daytona Beach,
Florida. Rachel wore a dyed three-quarter-length ermine coat that
Jackie had given her for a wedding present not quite three weeks earlier,
a matching black hat, and a brown alligator-skin handbag he had
bought her that winter in Venezuela. Although Southern California
weather hardly required a fur coat, "that piece of ermine was my certificate
of respectability," she later said. "I thought that when I wore it
everyone would know that I belonged on the plane, or wherever I happened
As Jackie's mother, Mallie, said good-bye to her son and daughter-in-law,
she handed them a shoe box.
"What's this?" Jackie asked.
"It's full of fried chicken and hard-boiled eggs," his mother said.
"Aw, mamma, you shouldn't have brought this," he protested. "They
serve food on the plane."
"I know," she answered. "But I just thought something might happen,
and I didn't want you starving to death and getting to that baseball
camp too weak to hit the ball." Mallie Robinson's experiences in the
South had taught her theimportance of being self-sufficient. She often
told her family: "God bless the child who got's his own." But Jackie
and Rachel did not want the shoe box. They knew the stereotype about
blacks having picnics on trains and could imagine strangers' disapproving
or mocking stares. They also knew, however, that they would disappoint
Mallie if they did not accept her gift. So they reluctantly took the
shoe box, thanked Mallie, and, in a few minutes, said good-bye.
Rachel later remembered her anxiousness as she and her husband began
their journey. "I did have some trepidation about entering the
South for the first time," Rachel remembered. "But dressed in my wedding
finery and escorted by my strong, handsome, talented husband, I
couldn't foresee the need for the odorous chicken as we parted from
Mallie. I was focusing my hope that whatever the circumstances, Jack
would land a desperately needed job and win a place in the starting
Fried Chicken and Hard-Boiled Eggs
Jackie Robinson was headed to spring training, hoping to win a spot
on the roster of the Montreal Royals, the Brooklyn Dodgers' AAA minor
league team. When a few months earlier he had signed with the Royals,
he became the first black in organized professional baseball in the
twentieth century. Simultaneously, Robinson was transformed into a
symbol of black America's long struggle for racial equality. After playing
the 1946 season with Montreal, Robinson was promoted to the
Dodgers, where the following April he broke Major League Baseball's
color line. And it is there, in April 1947, that his story so often begins.
Because of all Robinson accomplished from that moment on and all
that he has come to represent since, the events before April 1947 have
been all too easy to ignore.
But the real story of the integration of baseball had actually begun
more than a year earlier, when Robinson boarded that flight to Florida
deep in the Jim Crow South. For blacks, the racial climate in the South
was tense, unpredictable, and violent. Discrimination was legal and
enforced without regard to basic human rights. Whites reinforced Jim
Crow laws through threats and physical coercion as well as by taking
the law into their own hands. The brunt of these attacks were borne
by black war veterans, who, having bravely served in World War II, returned
home believing they should be treated with the same respect as
other Americans. Instead, a number were lynched "to teach them their
In return for fighting and dying for their country, blacks demanded
nothing less than the rights guaranteed them in the U.S. Constitution - equal
opportunity, equal protection under the law, abolition of public
segregation, and the same treatment afforded whites. In his 1945
book, Rising Wind, Walter White, chairman of the National Association
for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), wrote that the war
had given American blacks a sense of kinship with other oppressed
people in the world. He called on the country to reject the lynchings
of returning black soldiers. The United States, White wrote, "could
choose between a policy of appeasement of bigots - which course she
gives every indication now of following or she can live up to ideals and
thereby save herself."
During spring training of 1946 the inequalities and prejudices of
baseball converged with those of the country they reflected. Discrimination
was so institutionalized that mainstream America gave little
thought to such concepts as civil rights or racial equality - especially
in the South. In 1944, Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal had published
An American Dilemma, a groundbreaking study of race relations.
So complete was segregation in the South, Myrdal wrote, that "the
white Southerner practically never sees a Negro except as his servant
and in other standardized and formalized caste situations." Southern
newspapers enforced policies that prohibited the publication of photographs
of blacks - except for those, as one black writer wrote, "who
dangled at the end of ropes over limbs of trees."
The story of Robinson and his first spring training thus reveals an
important - and so far neglected - piece of history about the integration
of baseball. In doing so, it also reveals a great deal about America as it
struggled to correct its contradictory character: preaching equality for
all while discriminating against millions of its own. The story of Jackie
Robinson's first spring training captures America as it moved, or staggered,
toward its promise of equal rights for all. In addition, the drama
of baseball's first integrated spring training dramatizes the ways in
which the issues of integration, segregation, and civil rights were covered
by the nation's black press as well as its white mainstream press.
Both in content and context, the reporting in the mainstream press
was limited by a mindset that prevented white reporters, their newspapers,
and their readers from appreciating the historical significance of
Jackie Robinson's 1946 spring training. To black sportswriters and
their readers, however, the story clearly symbolized the hopes and the
dreams of integration, not merely on a ball field but in society. Black
sportswriters and their newspapers recognized this crucial juncture between
the stories of baseball and civil rights and shared it with their
readers. Because white America learned little about civil rights from
its newspapers, it failed to understand that America was changing - and
thus was ill-prepared for the civil rights movement.
Baseball was one of the first institutions in postwar America to become
desegregated. Baseball was America's national game, and like
America itself, it preached that it was a melting pot where everyone,
regardless of identity or origin, could succeed, provided they had the
talent or determination. The nation's mainstream sportswriters perpetuated
this myth, and baseball fans accepted it, not knowing or not
caring that talented black ballplayers played in the shadows of white
baseball, barred from the game because of an insidious "gentlemen's
agreement" that had excluded blacks since the 1880s.
Though most of America did not know it, several sportswriters
working for black weeklies and the Communist newspaper, the Daily
Worker, had campaigned for integration for more than a decade before
Montreal signed Robinson in October 1945. The Communists and the
radical left would play a part in making the national pastime more democratic.
But black and Communist sportswriters understood that they
could not end segregated baseball by themselves. Like the leaders of
the civil rights movement, they needed the support of white journalists,
activists, and politicians. They needed someone like Branch Rickey,
the president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who had the courage, foresight,
and clout to force the issue on baseball.
In late August 1945, Rickey summoned Robinson, then playing for
the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues. Rickey explained that
he had been scouting black baseball for the right player and the search
had led him to Robinson. Following a three-hour meeting, Rickey
signed Robinson to a contract after receiving his assurances that he
would have "the guts not to fight back" against racist epithets,
spikings, and worse. Rickey told Robinson that if he lost his temper, it
would set off race riots in stadiums or simply prove that blacks were
too emotional to play in organized baseball. The baseball establishment
had long justified segregation by maintaining that blacks lacked
the requisite ability and temperament. Rickey and Robinson kept the
contract to themselves until Rickey felt the time was right to make the
On October 23, 1945, Montreal stunned the baseball world by announcing
that it had signed Robinson, thus forcing integration on
baseball and, by implication, American society itself. "I realize what
I'm getting myself into," Robinson told reporters. "I also realize how
much it means to me, my race, and baseball." Intelligent and pragmatic,
Robinson understood the dangers inherent in challenging segregation
on its own ground in Florida. Unlike most blacks, he had been
around whites - as a four-sport athlete at UCLA and then as an officer in
the U.S. Army. He had faith in his ability as an athlete. He also had faith
in Branch Rickey. And, finally, he believed that he was on the side of the
angels, that the hand of God was with him, and that he would triumphantly
emerge from the challenge.
Unbeknownst to the Robinsons, a few days before their flight departed
from California, a race riot had erupted in the small southern
town of Columbia, Tennessee. Blacks would read about it in horror
over the next few weeks. A black mother and her son, Gladys and
James Stevenson, recently discharged from the navy, had gone into the
Castner-Knott Shop to complain that a radio she had left for repair
was still not working. The repairman, a twenty-eight-year-old white
man named William Fleming, resented Mrs. Stevenson's complaint,
followed her and James outside, and then slapped and kicked the woman.
James Stevenson then pushed Fleming through the store's plate-glass
window. A number of white men, including a police officer, then
attacked James. When Mrs. Stevenson intervened, the officer struck
her over the eye. The Stevensons were arrested and jailed on charges of
assault. Fleming, however, was not arrested.
The jailing of the Stevensons did not resolve the tension. Columbia,
located near Pulaski, Tennessee, the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan,
had a history of racial violence. Many of the town's three thousand
black citizens still remembered the black teenager who in 1933 had
been beaten, burned, and hanged by a white mob after being acquitted
of raping a white girl. Sheriff J. J. Underwood, hearing rumors that
a white mob was forming and a rope had been acquired, called two
prominent black citizens and asked for their help in smuggling the
Stevensons out of town.
By six o'clock, seventy-five whites had gathered in the city's public
square, just a few blocks from the town's black district, known as Mink
Slade. Within an hour, white men were knocking on the jail door and
demanding the release of the Stevensons. Sheriff Underwood opened
the door and, firing a machine gun over the men's heads, ordered the
crowd to disband. He arrested two men for not dispersing and threw
them in jail for public drunkenness. Hoping to defuse the situation,
Underwood then ordered his men to set up a roadblock to keep blacks
and whites apart.
Black residents, meanwhile, fearing the worst, met in Mink Slade. A
few armed men shot out the streetlights and then waited at store windows,
fearful of an attack. When night came, two white police officers,
without Underwood's permission, turned their engines off and rolled
through the darkened Mink Slade district without identifying themselves.
"Here they come!" someone yelled from his position in a store
window. The air exploded with gunfire. Black townspeople, some of
whom were war veterans, demonstrated that they would fight before
seeing another lynching. "We fought for freedom overseas," one black
shouted, "and we'll fight for it here!"
Once the shooting began, the white mob ran into Mink Slade with
their guns firing. In the aftermath, as blood drained into the street's
gutters, the mayor of Columbia asked the governor to send state troopers
and the National Guard. Early the next morning, hundreds of law
enforcement officers converged on Mink Slade, forced black residents
out of their houses, and confiscated their guns and even their jewelry
and money. Once Mink Slade was under control, the law enforcement
officers then began destroying homes and businesses, shooting out
windows, tearing up furniture, burning business records, and scrawling
KKK into walls.
Daily Worker reporter Harry Raymond counted thirty-four bullet
holes in front of a barber shop. In another shop, every jukebox was
smashed and the money removed. A state patrolman's bayonet had
been shoved through the music box in a refreshment store and all its
beer carted off for a celebration. Raymond described the destruction
done to a church: "With fiendishness, these men, sworn to uphold law
and order, ripped and tore the chapel draperies. Pieces of wreckage
were on top of a Bible on the pulpit."
Over the next two days, dozens of blacks were arrested and charged
with inciting a riot and attempted murder. According to one account
by a black journalist, "The writ of habeas corpus was virtually suspended.
Negroes were arrested without charges, held incommunicado,
questioned without benefit of counsel, and detained on excessive bail.
... The home of virtually every Negro in Columbia and its immediate
environs was searched and all firearms taken." The arrests continued
throughout the week. About a hundred blacks were eventually arrested
and jailed. Not a single white was arrested. While police questioned
two suspects, William Gordon and James Johnson, one grabbed a
weapon, and when they tried to escape, according to police, the two
men were shot to death.
The Nashville Banner and other Tennessee newspapers blamed communists
and outside agitators like the NAACP for the violence. "We've
always treated our niggers nice," a Columbia lawyer said, "and now
they turn against us like this." State politicians urged reporters to
write that black folks in Columbia would not have acted so violently if
it not been for "outside agitation." In an editorial, the Columbia Daily
Herald wrote: "The white people of the South ... will not tolerate any
racial disturbances without resenting it, which means bloodshed. The
Negro has not a chance of gaining supremacy over a sovereign people
and the sooner the better element of the Negro race realize this, the
better off the race will be."
The Columbia race riot alarmed blacks. "It fulfilled predictions that
mob violence would be used after the war to force the Negro back into
'his place,'" The Crisis, the organ of the NAACP, said. The publication
added that the Columbia race riot revealed a new militancy among
black Americans - that even in small communities, blacks did "not intend
to sit quietly and let a mob form, threaten, and raid their neighborhoods."
Walter White immediately contacted Washington DC and
asked the Justice Department to "safeguard the constitutional rights of
Negroes against state violation of these rights," a strategy that would
become central to the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall, who later argued Brown v. Board
of Education in front of the U.S. Supreme Court and then became
America's first black Supreme Court justice, agreed to represent the
suspects. When he contracted pneumonia, however, he turned the case
over to fellow attorneys Alexander Looby, Maurice Weaver, and Leon
Ransom. The judge moved the case to nearby Lawrence County, where
an all-white jury acquitted twenty-three of the twenty-five suspects
charged in the riot. Black newspapers praised the stunning decision.
"America justice has triumphed over the klan," White told reporters. In
November, Marshall, now recuperated, represented the two suspects
who were charged with attempted murder. After a four-day trial,
the all-white jury in a neighboring town found one suspect not guilty
but the other guilty. Marshall's life in danger, he, like the Stevensons,
had to be smuggled out of town for fear he would be lynched.
Unaware of what was unfolding in Columbia, the Robinsons flew
over the western deserts, their thoughts focused on what awaited them
in Florida. They had been married on February 10 in a simple ceremony
at the Independent Church in Los Angeles. After the reception,
they checked into their hotel room on Central Avenue, and, as Rachel
put it, "closed the door on the outer world, all of my fears and doubts
vanished. It was a precious moment filled with feelings of completeness."
Excerpted from Blackout
by Chris Lamb
Copyright © 2006 by University of Nebraska Press.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Chris Lamb is an associate professor of media studies at the College of Charleston.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Many books and articles with much better research on this subject were published previous to this book. This book fails to uncover any new significant information. It is very disappointing. This is not an untold story, but a retold story of previously published information.