Book Review: Blackout: The Untold Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Spring Training
by Chris Lamb
Publication Date: Sep 01, 2004
List Price: $24.95
Format: Hardcover, 233 pages
Imprint: University of Nebraska Press
Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
Parent Company: University of Nebraska
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Book Reviewed by Kam Williams
"It may be difficult for us today to understand both the vastness of American racism or the rising popularity of communism [back then]. 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.
Sanford, like many southern towns, had a strong Klu Klux Klan tradition. The Klan used to meet across the street from Sanford Municipal Park. After the second day of practice, a white man approached without identifying himself... He had been sent from a gathering of a hundred townspeople to deliver a message: 'Get the niggers out of town!' There would be trouble unless Robinson and Wright were 'out of town by nightfall.'"
—Jackie Robinson's first days in Florida in the Dodgers' organization
On the way to integrating Major League Baseball in 1947, Jackie Robinson quietly endured a host of humiliations, death threats and a host of other indignities almost unimaginable by today's standards. For although he had been a standout with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League, Jackie was asked to prove himself all over again before he would be able to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
So, after signing a contract with owner Branch Rickey, he had to spend a year in the minor leagues with the Montreal Royals, a AAA team in the Dodgers' organization. And upon reporting to spring training in Florida 1946, he was expected to deal with a most unwelcoming situation, all without complaint, police protection, or the benefit of any coverage by the mainstream press.
While their white teammates were free to eat, sleep and travel anywhere they pleased, Jackie and the three other black Royals' movements were severely limited by the dictates of Jim Crow segregation. They were even prohibited from playing games in certain cities with racially-restricted stadiums. It's hard to think about leveling the playing field, when you're not even allowed to step on it in the first place.
Despite all of the above, the most upsetting aspect of the ordeal had to be the fact that everywhere they went the specter of an imminent lynching hung in the air, especially because the big city daily papers entered an unwritten confederacy of silence, refusing to report about any of the mistreatment, despite ample evidence that it was of a vile, incessant and menacing nature. This absence of coverage sent the scary message to the prejudiced perpetrators that it would be okay to escalate their tactics in their attempts to discourage any African-Americans from participating in the national past time.
Thankfully, members of the black press, especially The Pittsburgh Courier, The Washington Afro-American and the Chicago Defender, were willing to document the frightening events as they unfolded, as was The Daily World, the prevailing Communist newspaper. Their preserved archives, in turn, have now enabled Professor Chris Lamb of the College of Charleston to compile the accounts into Blackout: The Untold Story of Jackie Robinson's First Spring Training.
What makes this book so valuable is that it chronicles, in a most entertaining fashion, harrowing situations and landmark cultural developments at a critical juncture in American history. Thus, Blackout only serves to add to Jackie Robinson's stature by putting these previously unappreciated heroics in proper perspective, by illustrating how he risked life and limb on a daily basis just by virtue of being a black man seeking to cross any of a number of strictly enforced color lines.