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Baseball And Civil Rights In America

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

Jackie Robinson swinging a bat in a Brooklyn Dodgers uniform in 1954

Baseball has a complicated history.

Once, America’s national past-time … today baseball has been surpassed in popularity by professional football.

But, baseball did play an important role in this country’s Civil Rights movement with the signings of Jackie Robinson and Satchel Paige.

So, how did the integration of baseball change our country?

Well, Arnold Peskin, a retired educator from Mesquite, explained civil rights and the history of baseball to KNPR's State of Nevada.

Peskin will deliver a lecture March 12 titled Baseball and Civil Rights at the Spring Valley Library at 4820 S. Jones Blvd.


Why did you choose this topic?

In 1948, when Branch Rickey and Jackie Robison signed a contract, I was 9 years old just another kid on the streets of New York. The thing was for us we divided our lives into two equal parts baseball and everything else. There was nothing else. Unless you want to talk about Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. That was it.

Probably the most salient point in all of this is when Jackie Robison came on the scene and we began to hear about it as kids we never knew that anything was wrong. We never even knew that there was such a thing as the Negro League and neither did our elders.

Why is it important to know about the good times and bad times when it comes to race and baseball?

We need to know about the bad times on a lot of things. The segregation issue was one of them.

Baseball was all white. It didn’t have Hispanics, didn’t have Japanese. It was strictly an all-white thing.

How long did it take before black American baseball players were accepted into the major leagues?

It is still going on to a much lesser extent. In 1948, when Jackie Robison first made an appearance he was greeted, let me put it mildly, in the most unfriendly manor as possible. Not only by the fans, but by his teammates as well. It took a lot of doing for that to change.

Tell us more about Satchel Paige:

He was reputed to have the greatest fastball that ever was. Then again, do accept the legend rather than the facts. Yeah, I’ll accept the legends. He went on to pitch, according to some accounts, until he was in his 60s, when he finally got into the major leagues.

He was the mainstay of the Monarchs. And in charge of almost everything that went on.  

Josh Gibson was the other person that Branch Rickey had to consider. Was he going to go with Satchel? Was he going to go with Josh Gibson? Why did he go with Jackie Robinson? The answer is not all that hard to understand.

Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson that was there life: baseball. And the job required a lot more depth than that. Jackie Robinson on the other hand attended UCLA. Was the first four letterman at UCLA and held the record for the broad jump for many years. He played basketball. All-American football at UCLA, and of course, a baseball player. And by order of Congress he was an officer and a gentlemen in the U.S. Army. When you put all of that together.


Arnold Peskin, retired educator

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