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Fight for civil rights began with 1946 spring training

Jackie Robinson's reporting to Daytona Beach for spring training - and staying on - was a big first.

By MARLON A. WALKER
Published March 5, 2006


To Chris Lamb, Jackie Robinson's story was about more than baseball. People usually forget the fight for integration that came before the civil rights movement began, Lamb said.

"When we do that, we miss 90 percent of the story," said Lamb, an associate professor at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. "The civil rights movement begins with Jackie Robinson."

Lamb, the author of Blackout: The Untold Story of Jackie Robinson's First Spring Training, which won the 2005 Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore Award for Best Social and Ethnographic History, will be in Florida to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Robinson's historic first spring training.

Monday, Lamb will talk about Robinson's trip at the Florida Center for Teachers at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, 599 Second St. S., at noon and the Dunedin Public Library, 223 Douglas Ave., at 7 p.m.

He will discuss the hurdles Robinson faced to get to spring training and how he almost didn't participate. It's a story Lamb said few know much about.

"I was a columnist in Daytona Beach. I thought I knew everything about baseball," he said. "When my friends were hanging out with girls, I was memorizing statistics. And I didn't know this story."

Robinson's story began on Feb. 28, 1946, when he and his wife left Los Angeles headed to Florida for spring training. During the trip, they were twice bumped from flights to make room for white passengers. After being bumped from a connecting flight in Pensacola, Robinson and his wife hopped on a bus to finish the trip. While on the bus, he was told to move to the back. Lamb said the decision to move was hard for Robinson, who was court-martialed by the U.S. Army for refusing to do the same thing.

"This was probably the first time he deferred to a racial slight," Lamb said. "You have this symmetry of Robinson challenging segregation in the Army. He's put out; he can now challenge segregation in baseball - and restrains himself on the bus because if he screws up, the whole experiment fails. After the trip (to Daytona Beach), he wanted to quit.

"He puts a cause ahead of himself," said Lamb.

Participating in training exercises were also a challenge. Daytona Beach was the only city on the schedule that allowed him to participate. In Sanford, rules barred whites and blacks from playing on the same field. In DeLand, Lamb said officials canceled a game because "the lights weren't working."

The game had been scheduled during the day.

Sticking it out has been beneficial for many more people than just Robinson, Lamb said.

"These six weeks didn't just change baseball, they changed America," he said.

Last week, the National Baseball Hall of Fame inducted 17 Negro League members. While the effort should be applauded, Lamb said bringing them all on board at one time dilutes the act. He also said leaving out Buck O'Neil, a Sarasota resident who played in the Negro Leagues and broke the color barrier as the first black coach in Major League Baseball, may be a mistake.

"To most of white America, Buck O'Neil is a symbol of the Negro Leagues. He's all they know of black baseball," he said. "Personally, I don't take the hall seriously because there are so many people in the hall that shouldn't be and so many people not in the hall that should be."

Marlon A. Walker can be reached at 727 893-8737 or mwalker@sptimes.com

[Last modified March 5, 2006, 00:52:12]


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