Decades After Insults To Jackie Robinson, Philadelphia Extends An Apology
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The city of Philadelphia has a message for the late Jackie Robinson - we are sorry. The first African-American baseball player in the major leagues visited the city in 1947. He was met with racial slurs and discrimination. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reports city leaders are now issuing a formal apology almost 70 years later.
HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: In the city of brotherly love, Jackie Robinson did not get a brotherly welcome. He was on his first road trip with the Brooklyn Dodgers, as shown in this scene from the 2013 film "42." When the team stopped their bus outside their usual hotel in Philadelphia the hotel's manager would not let Robinson and his white teammates check-in.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "42")
T.R. KNIGHT: (As Harold Parrott) Oh, no, no, no, no, we have reservations. We're the Dodgers.
PETER JURASIK: (As hotel manager) No, your team is not welcome here, not while you have ballclub negros with you.
WANG: There were also death threats from fans of Philadelphia Phillies, backlash that, in a 1948 interview, Robinson said he and his team's general manager, Branch Rickey, were bracing for after Robinson broke baseball's color barrier a year earlier.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JACKIE ROBINSON: I remember Mr. Rickey saying to me that I couldn't fight back, and I wondered whether or not I was going to be able to do this.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "42")
ALAN TUDYK: (As Ben Chapman) Hey, why don't you back to the cotton fields where you come from, huh?
WANG: That reenactment is from another scene in "42," showing the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, Ben Chapman, showering Robinson with racial slurs from the dugout. This was during a Dodgers home game that Robinson said brought him nearer to cracking up than he ever had been. Jonathan Eig wrote about this campaign of hatred.
JONATHAN EIG: It was so offensive that, for a lot of Americans, it was a wake-up call. It made people, white people in particular, realize for the first time just what burden Robinson was shouldering.
WANG: Eig is an author of a biography about Robinson, and he says the attacks from the Phillies and in Philadelphia were not unusual at the time.
EIG: He faced it in spring training, in every town in Florida that he visited. He faced it in Pittsburgh and St. Louis and Cincinnati. I doubt that he would've singled out Philadelphia as the worst place in the world.
WANG: Robinson later posed for photos with Chapman, with both men holding a bat behind home plate, as a PR truce. Still, Helen Gym says an official apology from the city is a long overdue.
HELEN GYM: It was incredibly shameful for our city.
WANG: That's why the Philadelphia City Councilwoman introduced a resolution to honor Robinson later this month and to apologize.
GYM: It's important to understand that time doesn't blunt that hate - that people remember that in ways that are lasting and painful.
WANG: Gym says she hopes the city's apology will be a first step in confronting issues of its past and present.
GYM: Racism isn't incidental or lurking somewhere in the background by sinister villains from history. It is a very real facet of life for this country.
WANG: Gym says the city plans to present a copy of the resolution to Rachel Robinson, Jackie Robinson's widow. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.