As executive director of the ACLU for two decades, Brooklyn-born Ira Glasser has dedicated his life to fighting for freedom. He says he chose that path largely because he grew up watching Jackie Robinson.
I was nine when Robinson broke in. My friends and I had a passionate, personal relationship with the Dodgers. Into that relationship came Robinson, who captured our hearts so thoroughly that it became difficult to remember a time without him. On a team filled with heroes, he was the one most of us emulated. We tried to incorporate everything about him into our own styles—his intense competitiveness, his exquisite sense of timing and surprise, his slashing disruption of the other side. Decades after Robinson retired, you could go to a batting range in New York City and find grown men, bats held high, right hands nervously wiping at hips, toes pointing slightly inward.
Growing up in Brooklyn, few of us knew about Jim Crow laws. But we knew about the death threats to Robinson; we knew about the resistance of some teammates to taking the field with him, and we knew about the race-baiting from opposition dugouts. Robinson's response gave us a stance with which to confront an unjust world. Seven years before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down school segregation, eight years before Rosa Parks sat in the wrong seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus, Robinson taught us to be reckless when recklessness was least expected, to be intense when others relaxed, to resist adversity and come back to win.
Before 1947 the crowd at Ebbets Field was virtually all white. In my East Flatbush neighborhood, there were no black families. Though New York had no Jim Crow laws, racial separation was nearly total. But after '47 things began to change at the ballpark. By '49 I sat in integrated bleachers, and it felt natural. We would scream, together, when rightfielder Carl Furillo fired a strike to third. We were ecstatic, together, when Robinson, with his feints from third, forced the opposing pitcher to balk home a run. We were delirious, together, when Duke Snider hit one over the scoreboard and onto Bedford Avenue.
I remember Robinson winning a game with a drive to left center. I found myself, an 11-year-old white boy, embracing a middle-aged black man. There was a sense of community between black and white at Ebbets Field, a meeting ground in a society that had banished most other meeting grounds.
It has become justly fashionable to celebrate what Robinson did a half century ago. But if he were alive today, Robinson would be reminding us—and not gently—that racial inequities still limit the opportunities and stifle the dreams of black children. He would be talking to us about the unfinished struggle for justice, in and out of baseball. And for many of us who continue the struggle, Robinson remains among us, pushing us to go further, stutter-stepping off third, eyes flashing, heading home.
Cleveland: The Final Frontier
Astronaut Donald Thomas, who this week was to begin a 16-day mission aboard the space shuttle Columbia, may have his head in the stars, but his heart is in Cleveland. Thomas is a diehard Browns fan who, like many of his brethren, is literally counting the days until the NFL returns to Cleveland.
In addition to carrying a Browns team flag and wearing a Browns patch on his space suit, Thomas was scheduled to blast off wearing a Browns watch, which ticks off the days until Aug. 21, 1999, when, according to a promise from NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, a franchise called the Browns will play in a new Cleveland Stadium. Upon his return, Thomas will present the flag and the watch to Cleveland, along with a certificate commemorating his flight. Oh, yeah, while he's in space, he'll also be doing research into microgravity or something.