“Let us try and meet his Qualifications as a Gentleman”

20 Apr

In April of 1947, with Jackie Robinson on the verge of making his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, the “Dean of Negro sportswriters,” Frank Albert “Fay” Young said in The Chicago Defender, Robinson would not be the only one under a microscope:

“It is hoped that the Negro fans, who want to see Robinson remain in big-time baseball will learn to treat him as another top-notch ball player.  He should not be made to carry the added burden of ‘the race problem’ on his shoulders.  He will have a hard enough job playing the brand of baseball expected of any other big leaguer.

“Two things are important.  The first is the conduct of the Negro fans.  Drinking is out in all National League parks.  Profane language, if you have to use it, reserve it for your home where your wife will ‘brain’ you.

Robinson will not be on trial as much as the Negro fan.  The Negro fan has been the ‘hot potato’ dodged by managers who would have taken a chance by signing a Negro player.”

Frank "Fay" Young, The Chicago Defender

Frank “Fay” Young, The Chicago Defender

Robinson was scheduled to make his first appearance in Chicago on May 18.  Young said:

“We hope that Sgt. Harness and ‘Two-gun Pete’ and some other brave Negro policemen will be assigned to the Cubs Park.  Harness and ‘Two-gun’ know the hoodlums.”

Harness and ‘Two-gun Pete’ were Robert Harness and Sylvester Washington, two well-known African-American police offers.  Harness rose to the rank of commander before he retired.  Washington, who The Defender called “Chicago’s toughest black cop,” and carried two pearl-handled revolvers, suffered a different fate.  The paper said in 1951, he was “(A)sked publicly to explain how he had been able to purchase a $40,000 building specifically, and maintain an expensive auto and flashy clothes on a $3,600 per year salary.  ‘A lot of people give me things…I am a great policeman,’ he is reported to have replied.”  Washington resigned from the force that year.

In addition to their behavior at the ballpark, Young also implored fans:

“Robinson is against being singled out before a game to be called to home plate and be presented with numerous gifts.  There will be eight other Dodger players in the game.  Jackie insists on being treated as a ballplayer trying to make good and not a Negro ballplayer seeking special privileges.

“The Negro fan can help Robinson.  The Negro fan can ruin him.  Robinson is an American citizen, an ex-army officer, a ballplayer and a gentleman.  Let us try and meet his qualifications as a gentleman.  If you Chicagoans have got to raise a lot of hell, do a lot of cussing, go somewhere else.”

Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson

Robinson’s Chicago debut—a 4 to 2 Dodger victory–drew 46,572 fans, the then largest crowd to attend a game at Wrigley Field since field seating was discontinued in 1936.  The Defender reported that the fans were “Orderly,” focusing their only derision towards “one Dixie Walker who was the recipient of plenty of boos.”  The fans maintained order even when Robinson was called out on strikes with the bases loaded in the fifth inning “much to his disgust and to those who sat behind home plate and though the umpire should have called the pitch a ball.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s