Jim Rice, Barack Obama, and MLK: To Be Black in Boston

D.D. HardingCorrespondent IJanuary 17, 2009

I can't help but wake up today and feel like the world has been turned upside down.

After 233 years of hatred, prejudice, and oppression, I can finally stand atop my Boston tenement and scream, "It Is Great To Be an African-American in Boston."

My life hero, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., turned 80 yesterday. His "I Have A Dream" has come to fruition.

Almost 50 years ago, Dr. King exclaimed, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

I have to pinch myself at the thought that less than one week from today, my President, our President, will have the same color skin that my Daddy had, my Granddaddy had, and my children have.

From here on in, when I tell my children that they, too, can "Have a Dream," that look of doubt will finally disappear from their faces.

Thoughts of Harriet Tubman, Nelson Mandela, and Dr. Martin Luther King will be replaced by thoughts of Barack Obama taking the Oath of Office as our 44th President of the United States.

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As wonderful as I feel about celebrating the birthday of Dr. King and celebrating the inauguration of Barack Obama, I somehow feel a greater sense of pride by the long-awaited election of Jim Ed Rice to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Please understand, this is not an article about racism. This is not an allegation that Rice was in any way held out of the HoF due to the color of his skin.

Rice's statistics do indeed put him on the borderline of baseball's highest honor. Rice himself responded to allegations of racism in Boston by Torii Hunter in 2008 by saying, he "never heard anything negative in Boston nor on the road."

As an African American, Rice must feel an equal sense of pride having reached the status of Baseball God—playing for an organization that was viewed as racist, in a city that was once viewed as even more racist.

Many young African-American children today believe that once Jackie Robinson donned the uniform of the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, baseball was officially desegregated. As you view the list below, however, it is clear that this was not the case.

Jackie RobinsonBrooklyn Dodgers, NLApril 15, 1947
Larry DobyCleveland Indians, ALJuly 5, 1947
Hank ThompsonSt. Louis Browns, ALJuly 17, 1947
Monte Irvin and
New York Giants, NLJuly 8, 1949
Hank Thompson
Sam JethroeBoston Braves, NLApril 18, 1950
Minnie MiñosoChicago White Sox, ALMay 1, 1951
Bob TricePhiladelphia Athletics, ALSept. 13, 1953
Ernie BanksChicago Cubs, NLSept. 17, 1953
Curt RobertsPittsburgh Pirates, NLApril 13, 1954
Tom AlstonSt. Louis Cardinals, NLApril 13, 1954
Nino Escalera and
Cincinnati Reds, NLApril 17, 1954
Chuck Harmon
Carlos PaulaWashington Senators, ALSept. 6, 1954
Elston HowardNew York Yankees, ALApril 14, 1955
John KennedyPhiladelphia Phillies, NLApril 22, 1957
Ozzie Virgil, Sr.Detroit Tigers, ALJune 6, 1958
Pumpsie GreenBoston Red Sox, ALJuly 21, 1959

Take note that Pumpsie Green donned the red socks over 12 years after Jackie Robinson entered the league.

Wikipedia devotes six lengthy paragraphs to the topic of racism and the Red Sox, including the following passage:

The Boston Red Sox were the last major league team to integrate,[3] due to the steadfast resistance provided by owner Tom Yawkey. The Red Sox had refused to consider signing Jackie Robinson after a brief tryout at Fenway Park in April 1945[3] (spurred by a Boston city councilor, Isadore Muchnik, who threatened to revoke the team's exemption from Sunday blue laws). Yawkey had territorial rights to acquire any player on the Negro Leagues' Birmingham, Alabama, team (the Birmingham Black Barons) passed on the chance to acquire the teenage Willie Mays.[3] The justification was that Mays was not the Red Sox's "kind of player."

In 1974, (one year before Rice made it to the bigs) Boston was ablaze with racism after Judge W. Arthur Garrity desegregated the Boston schools and instituted a policy of forced busing in Boston.

White kids were bused to schools in the poorer neighborhoods that were once all-black schools and African-American students were bussed, against their will, as well, to the all-white schools.

Not a day passed that my dinner would not be interrupted by the sounds of molotov cocktails, police sirens, and rocks hitting the side of buses outside my Boston home.

Judge Garrity became the target of death threats and at least two attempts on his life.

He was under guard 24 hours a day from 1974 to 1978, was snubbed by many, and hanged in effigy when demonstrators came to his home.

Jim Rice broke into the Red Sox starting lineup in April of 1975, while the shadows of racism lurked outside the Green Monster.

Rice was unarguably the first African-American star for the Red Sox. Other African-American Sox players like Reggie Smith, Joe Foy, and George Scott crossed into "star" status but never reached the level that Rice did.

Many a child in Chelsea, Mattapan, Dorchester, and Roxbury (inner city Boston neighborhoods) visualized watching Jim Ed launch bombs into the Boston night, despite being unable to afford a ticket to the beloved Fen.

I can still recall my Jim Rice poster, which hung on my wall—paperless wall—in my family's third-floor apartment.

Though I had never been to a Sox game, I knew Rice's stance and fluid swing like it was my own. One, two, three half swings of the bat before cracking the rawhide to any of Boston's gaps. That quick gallop around the bases as the ball sailed into the Boston sky.

I often wondered how it must feel for this 21-year-old kid from Charleston, South Carolina to be playing for Tom Yawkey's racist Red Sox in one of the North's most racist cities.

Rice also had the unfortunate task of trying to fill the shoes of two mega legends, Ted Williams and Carl Yastremski, who had manned the green in front of the Green for three decades prior to Rice's arrival.

My daddy always said, "Before you judge a man, you need to walk a mile in his shoes." Many of us wouldn't even dare lace Rice's up—let alone try to walk a mile in them.

And so, for a day, or a week, or maybe even longer, all the world seems right.

Martin Luther King is dreaming like never before.

Barack and Michelle and Malia and Sasha are are being "judged by the content of their character."

And Jim Rice is in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

I smile and let out a long, overdue sigh of relief. For some reason, I think Jim Ed may finally be smiling, too.

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