Jackie Robinson integrates baseball 73 years ago—Daily Worker archive
This April 18,1946 file photo shows Montreal Royals Jackie Robinson. | John J. Lent / AP

It is late October 1945. World War II had ended just a month before, and millions of American G.I.s remained stationed overseas. Nazi forces had surrendered five months earlier, and the horrors of Hitler’s extermination camps were still being uncovered.

At home, the American public celebrated the defeat of fascism, the preservation of democracy, and demanded the quick and safe return of their loved ones fighting overseas.

This was the backdrop against which professional baseball’s integration—the breaking of the color line—took place: Jackie Robinson signed on with the Montreal Royals, the Brooklyn Dodgers minor league farm team.

The “people’s war against fascism” was victorious. And creeping closer also was victory for the 10-year campaign started by Daily Worker sports editor Lester Rodney to end Jim Crow baseball. Rodney was overseas serving as a combat medic in the Pacific when news broke of Robinson’s signing with the Royals. The article we reprint below was written by another Daily Workers sportswriter, Nat Low, one of those who covered the sports beat during the war.

Rodney made it back home to New York in time to cover Robinson’s debut as a Dodger on April 15, 1947. At that time, he would write: “It’s hard this Opening Day to write straight baseball and not stop to mention the wonderful fact of Jackie Robinson,” Rodney wrote. “You tell yourself it shouldn’t be especially wonderful in America, no more wonderful, for instance, than Negro soldiers being with us on the way overseas through submarine-infested waters in 1943.”

Now, here we are October 2018—73 years after this monumental victory—and again we are talking about the threat of fascism.

In the past week, we have seen the murder of two Black customers in Louisville, Ky. by a racist gunman, a coordinated postal bomb attack against Democrats and other critics of Donald Trump, and the murder of 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the worst anti-Semitic attack in American history.

Their blood now stains the White House.

What comes next is up to us—we, the people, who claim to believe in democracy.

From the People’s World Sports Desk,

Al Neal.

The Low Down: The Victory is won, but it must be secured

Daily Worker, October 25, 1945

By Nat Low

“Of course, I cannot begin to tell you how happy I am to be the first member of my race in organized baseball. I realize how much it means to me, to my people and to baseball. I can only say I’ll do my very best to come through in every manner.”—Jackie Robinson after signing his contract in Montreal Tuesday afternoon.

Page 10 of the Oct. 25, 1945 edition of the Daily Worker. | People’s World / Daily Worker Archives

It was strange yesterday. For a long, long time we had dreamed of writing the story. And Lester Rodney before us. We used to discuss it up here, how the news would come, the kind of headline it would get, the lead we would give the story, etc., etc., etc.

Yet when it came it was hard to do the story which we had written in our minds so many times in the past.

Jackie Robinson has been signed to a contract with Montreal! He will report for spring training next year in Florida with the Dodgers and then will take his place at shortstop with the Royals.

Actually, Jackie will not be the first Negro ever to play in organized baseball. There have been a number of others; some were passed off as Indians, Latins, etc., etc., and some where known. In fact, the International League record book shows that the all-time I.L. mark for games won was set by George Stovey, a Negro hurler, who copped 35 contests in 1887.

But that was before the influx of big businessmen into the game had imposed a policy of Jim Crow baseball. Robinson thus becomes the first known Negro since this ban to be signed.

This victory is not a small one. It banishes the scourge of Jim Crow from our great National Pasttime.

It points the way to the complete integration of the Negro people in all fields of endeavor.

And it cannot but have a profound influence upon the life of our country.

That unburied monstrosity of a corpse, Bilbo, won’t like it. He’ll rave and rant and howl. But neither he nor anybody else can alter the onward rush of history.

The ending of Jim Crow in baseball is only one of the fruits of the recently victoriously concluded people’s war against fascism, which cost so much blood and suffering.

We did not fight the war only against something; we fought for positive things and one of these things was the right of Jackie Robinson in our country to play baseball.

Hank Forbes died so things like this could come about. So did Ray Friedlander and Carl Reynolds, and many others. And my friend Aaron has Nazi-created scars on his body, but now, he feels better about it; democracy has won a great victory at home.

Congratulatory cable sent by Daily Worker staff to Lester Rodney, then still serving overseas in the military’s 52nd Field Hospital. | People’s World / Daily Worker Archives

The fight isn’t over, however. Already those who would set back the clock of civilization are beginning to murmur.

But the people who won this victory will know how to secure it against counter-attacks. Jackie Robinson is only the first Negro to be signed. After him will come many others, for the Negro people have great talents and a democratic America will give free and unlimited expression to these talents.

Will the Dodgers stand firm in their decision? Will they resist the enemies who may pressure them into un-doing this great thing?

That, in part, is up to us. But it seems as if [Dodgers owner Branch] Rickey has made his decision. As his son said yesterday, “we will undoubtedly be severely criticized in some sections of the United States where racial prejudice is rampant….It may cost the Brooklyn organization a number of ball players. Some of them, particularly if they come from the south, will steer away from a club with colored players on its roster…Some players may even quit, but they’ll be back in baseball after they work a year or two in a cotton mill.”

Nothing more could be asked of the Dodgers than that. The rest is up to the people who believe in democracy. They have got to make themselves heard; they must rise up in one huge mass in support of this great stride forward. They must show clearly to the enemies of progress that they will not tolerate any attempt to keep Jackie Robinson and his brother out of OUR game.

These things will be done, I’m sure, for the world is moving onto the high road of democracy and there’s no blocking its passage.


CONTRIBUTOR

Nat Low
Nat Low

Nat Low wrote the Daily Worker sports column called "The Low Down."

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