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Blackout: The Untold Story of Jackie Robinson's First Spring Training Hardcover – September 1, 2004
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Jackie Robinson's integration of major-league baseball in 1947 has been well chronicled, but often overlooked in the Robinson hagiographies is the fact that he had done it all once before, in 1946, prior to playing minor-league ball with the Montreal Expos. Montreal was relatively free of the institutionalized bigotry Robinson would later face, but Florida, where he spent spring training in '46, certainly was not. Crowds were often verbally abusive, and Robinson and three other black men trying out for Montreal were forced to live in a rooming house while their teammates lived in an all-white hotel. Unlike Robinson's first year with Brooklyn, which played on a national stage in the established press, the indignities of his first spring training had to be endured in relative isolation, covered only by black journalists. Lamb's detailed and annotated research provides an in-depth examination of an important step in the integration of baseball, a step that, up until now, has not received the coverage it deserves. Of interest both to baseball fans and social historians. Wes Lukowsky
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Chris Lamb's "Blackout: the Untold Story of Jackie Robinson's First Spring Training" fills the gap between the Negro Leagues and the Major Leagues. Although baseball was one of the first institutions in postwar America to integrate; we find in 1946 that the waterfront gateway community of Sanford, Florida, was this nation's symbol of segregated sanctions.
Decades before the tragic Trayvon Martin incident, the town of Sanford was the battleground for Robinson's tryout with the Montreal Royals, a Brooklyn Dodger minor league club. In early March, after two days of practice in Sanford, Robinson was adamantly requested by town officials to leave the boarding house at 612 Sanford Avenue, by sundown, leaving his white teammates behind.
The following month, the Montreal club, with Robinson in tow, played an exhibition game in Sanford. This time, the police chief ordered Robinson to sit out the game due to a city ordinance that forbade social contact between blacks and whites, and barred them from competing in any games of chance, be it checkers, dominoes, dice, cards or baseball games. Robinson's second visit to the sundown town was as dehumanizing as his first.
Much like in the racial massacre depicted in the movie "Rosewood," about a horrific lynch mob attack on an African American community, which was shot in Sanford, the town was unwilling to take a progressive step in race relations.
Notwithstanding some minor factual errors, the historical speed bumps of Jackie's journey to become a Brooklyn Dodger are prevalent throughout Lamb's book. For the divinely inspired readers of race relations in baseball and beyond, this book is a must read, as we learn how Robinson inadvertently became an icon of the civil rights movement in America.
Larry Lester, co-chairman of SABR's Negro Leagues Committee and the annual Jerry Malloy Negro League Conference.
Lamb points out that black newspapers covered Robinson from the moment he began spring training with the Montreal Royals in 1946, and he uses many of those papers as his sources. In retelling the story of Branch Rickey's historic decision to sign Robinson and break baseball's color line, he refuses to treat Rickey as a lone, saintly hero; he points out that, for decades before Rickey joined the fray, black newspapers, socialists, and Communists had been agitating for the inclusion of blacks in organized baseball. Lamb shows that Lester Rodney, sportswriter for The Daily Worker, was also instrumental in the struggle to bring integration to the game. His is a name that seems to have been dropped from the record when other authors retell Robinson's story.
The most powerful aspect of the book is the way Lamb portrays the gagging outrageousness of the racial prejudice and discrimination Robinson faced in the Jim Crow-era American south. The vicious, buck-naked bigotry he and other blacks encountered ought to make every white American ashamed.