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if you saw today’s google doodle, you might know that jack roosevelt robinson would’ve turned 94 years old today. while jackie is most famous for breaking major league baseball’s color barrier, he was also a hall of famer in the sport (thanks to being a 6-time all-star, rookie of the year, league mvp & world series champion) as well as a civil rights activist. most of what you’ve heard about robinson probably came from outside sources since he died over 40 years ago. this excerpt from his autobiography I Never Had It Made is a chance for you to learn more straight from the man himself (via google books):
The late Malcolm X had a very interesting comment on the “progress” of the Negro. I disagreed with Malcolm vigorously in many areas during his earlier days, but I certainly agreed with him when he said, “Don’t tell me about the progress the black man has made. You don’t stick a knife ten inches in my back, pull it out three or four, then tell me I’m making progress.”
Malcolm, in a few well-chosen words, captured the essence of the way most blacks, I believe, think today. Virtually every time the black stands up like a man to make a protest or tell a truth as he sees it, white folks and some white-minded black folks try to hush or shame him by singing out that “You’ve come a long way” routine. They fail to say that we’ve still got a long way to go because of the unjust headstart the founding fathers of this country had on us and the handicaps they bestowed on the red men they robbed and the blacks they abducted and enslaved.
Whites are expert game-players in their contests to maintain absolute power. One of their time-honored gimmicks is to point to individual blacks who have achieved recognition: “But look at Ralph Bunche. Think about Lena Horne or Marian Anderson. Look at Jackie Robinson. They made it.”
As one of those who has “made it,” I would like to be thought of as an inspiration to our young. But I don’t want them lied to. The late Dr. Ralph Bunche, a true black man of our time, felt the same way. The “system supporters” will point to the honors heaped on a Ralph Bunche. They will play down the fact that he and his son were barred from membership in the New York Tennis Club because of blackness. They will gloss over the historical truth that Mr. Bunche was once offered a high post in the State Department and did not accept because it would have meant Jim Crow schools for his children. Look at Lena Horne, they say. The show business world took this lovely woman and tried to make her into a sepia Marilyn Monroe. They overlooked her dramatic ability and her other talents and insisted that she be cast only in the role of a cheap sexpot. When she refused they white-listed her out of the film colony. They point to her as a success symbol, but they will go easy on reminding you that she defied the United States Army when she was programmed to sing Jim Crow concerts for black troops and separate concerts for whites and German prisoners of war in Southern installation. Lena sang for the black troops only.
If a black becomes too important or too big for his racial britches or if he has too much power, he will get cut down. They will cut him down even when the power the black has doesn’t come from the white man, but from grass-roots black masses, as was the case of Harlem Congressman Adam Clayton Powell. With all his faults, Adam was a man who rocked the establishment boat, and the establishment lynched him politically for it. I don’t think anyone in or out of sports could seriously accuse Willie Mays of offending white sensitivities. But when he was in California, whites refused to sell him a house in their community. They loved his talent, but they didn’t want him for a neighbor.
Name them for me. The examples of blacks who “made it.” For virtually every one you name, I can give you a sordid piece of factual information on how they have been mistreated, humiliated.
Not being able to fight back is a form of severe punishment. I was relieved when Mr. Rickey finally called me into his office and said, “Jackie, you’re on your own now. You can be yourself now.”
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