Lester Rodney was a crusader for equality and instrumental in integrating baseball as sports editor with the Daily Worker in the 1930s, says ESPN in a recent video on its website. The Daily Worker is the predecessor to this news website, peoplesworld.org.
At the time African American players were banned from the major leagues, says the mini-documentary. It was Lester Rodney that had a “simple but seemingly impossible dream” – to end more than a half-century of segregation in the big leagues, says ESPN’s Outside The Lines program. For Black History Month, OTL reported on this white Communist sportswriter who “crusaded for baseball integration a decade before Jackie Robinson broke the color line.”
He was at the center in the fight for baseballs integration, said sports historian Larry Lester in the video.
“There was no one in the main stream press promoting the integration of baseball like Lester Rodney was,” he said. “He was a soldier and the press was his sword and he was able to galvanize masses of people.”
At age 25 Rodney was hired as the Daily Worker’s first sports editor. He immediately launched a relentless campaign to end the Jim Crow policy that kept baseball segregated. Rodney could not understand why his hometown Brooklyn Dodgers wouldn’t sign black players like Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson or Buck Leonard, some of the best in the Negro Leagues.
Dusty Baker, who is African American and Cincinnati Reds manager said Rodney told the truth about people in a time where people didn’t want to hear it.
“He attacked Jim Crow in words and action,” said Baker.
Rodney, the Daily Worker and supporters led petition drives, rallies and demonstrations for baseball’s integration. Rodney reported about white players and managers who also admitted it was time to integrate. In the face of skepticism Rodney persisted and millions joined the cause.
“It seems strange that almost halfway through the 20th century that there was absolutely no stir about an apartied ban in our national past time,” Rodney said in a 1996 interview.
The Daily Worker at the time had a circulation in the tens of thousands.
But we had an impact much larger, said Rodney in the ESPN production.
Unlike other mainstream national newspapers at the time the Daily Worker celebrated and gave voice to African American stars and the fight for equality.
Speaking about blacks fighting in World War II Rodney said, “If a guy is good enough to go out and die for his country, he ought to be good enough to play in its national past time.”
In 1945 at the end of the war Jackie Robinson was recruited by the Brooklyn Dodgers to play in the minor leagues and broke the color line. He was part of the Dodgers line-up by 1947.
Activists and readers of the People’s World, the Daily Worker’s predecessor, largely remember the history and fight for equality in baseball and other movements at the time as an important part of American history. Those struggles shaped and impacted how people of all backgrounds continue to fight against racism and racial inequality in all aspects of life today, activists note.
“He was a dynamite dude,” said Baker.
It really takes some nerve to do what he did back in those days and I admire him for speaking up and fighting for equality, said Baker.
Hinting that the fight for equality and challenges still exist today, Baker said people like Rodney are important when advocating for justice.
“There’s a good chance that we still need guys like him around today,” he said.
Click here to read “Rodney pushed for MLB integration” by ESPN producer Willie Weinbaum.
Photo: At a New York May Day parade. Daily Worker/PW