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April 14, 2016 0

Jackie Robinson Set the Stage

By Ken­neth Jacobson

April 15 is the 69th anniver­sary of the entry of Jackie Robin­son into the major leagues. To com­mem­o­rate that his­toric event and that his­toric fig­ure, PBS is run­ning a new two-part doc­u­men­tary  look­ing at how this grand­son of slaves rose from hum­ble ori­gins to inte­grate Major League Baseball.

In some ways, the story of Robin­son and the inte­gra­tion of base­ball is a lit­tle hard for us to under­stand in 2016. Soci­ety in gen­eral has come a long way: the civil rights rev­o­lu­tion, the elec­tion of an African-American pres­i­dent, and the lead­ing role that African-Americans play in our major Amer­i­can sports. And base­ball no longer occu­pies a unique place as the national pas­time that it held in the 1940s.

Jackie_Robinson,_Brooklyn_Dodgers,_1954

Still, in a year where major sto­ries include num­bers of cases of unarmed African-Americans killed by police, where the right to vote cre­ated by the 1965 Vot­ing Rights Act is under attack, where the school to prison pipeline is in the news, the Jackie Robin­son story has much to teach us.

In 1947, base­ball was king in Amer­ica. The fact that base­ball had never allowed an African-American to par­tic­i­pate in the major leagues was a blot on America’s rep­u­ta­tion, but only one of many that char­ac­ter­ized the coun­try before the civil rights era.

Robin­son was truly the har­bin­ger of change in America.

His break­through on April 15, 1947, which was rec­og­nized as a huge step for­ward. It took place seven years before the land­mark seg­re­ga­tion case Brown vs. Board of Edu­ca­tion and 17 years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It started a process, which took years to ripen and which still is not over, of right­ing the great wrong of Amer­i­can history.

The great les­son of the Robin­son expe­ri­ence is that while laws have the great­est impact in chang­ing soci­ety, cul­ture can set the stage and cre­ate a cli­mate for the accep­tance of new, more inclu­sive laws. We’ve seen that in our time with the legal­iza­tion of gay mar­riage, which was pre­ceded by a num­ber of years of greater cul­tural accep­tance of les­bian and gay peo­ple through tele­vi­sion and the internet.

Back then, the emer­gence of Robin­son, the first African-American major lea­guer,  who han­dled  hos­tile fel­low major lea­guers and crowds with such grace and strength, to be fol­lowed over the next few years of other suc­cess­ful black major lea­guers, helped to cre­ate a sense that African-Americans deserved to be treated like other Amer­i­cans in our demo­c­ra­tic soci­ety. It was not a rev­o­lu­tion – it took years for the law to change – but it set the stage for the revolution.

Cul­ture mat­ters. How we teach our chil­dren, how the media por­tray var­i­ous minori­ties, how our reli­gious, busi­ness and polit­i­cal lead­ers speak about “the other” have a cumu­la­tive affect that cul­mi­nates in a more equal society.

Nobody bet­ter rep­re­sents this idea than Jackie Robinson.

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July 3, 2014 0

From the Archives: ADL & the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Part 3

On June 10, 1964, a year after Pres­i­dent Kennedy first intro­duced the Civil Rights Act to the nation in a tele­vised address, a coali­tion of 44 Democ­rats and 27 Repub­li­cans voted for clo­ture, which lim­ited fur­ther debate and ended the 57-day fil­i­buster of the bill.

ADL had lob­bied for the bill in the months prior, includ­ing orga­niz­ing a meet­ing of 100 Jew­ish busi­ness, pro­fes­sional, and civic lead­ers from all over the United States, who met in Wash­ing­ton, DC, and urged their home-state Sen­a­tors to take action towards pas­sage of the bill.

In a press release react­ing to the Senate’s vote for clo­ture, ADL National Chair­man Dore Schary stated:

The vote on the clo­ture rule which now assures pas­sage of the Civil Rights Act is a vic­tory for all who love jus­tice and love an Amer­ica con­ceived in lib­erty. It is a defeat for no one except those who would pre­vent Amer­ica from achiev­ing its ulti­mate dream… For the thou­sands of civil rights lead­ers and for the coun­try as a whole, the final pas­sage of the Civil Rights Bill will pro­vide new oppor­tu­ni­ties, which they dare not squan­der, to help our Negro cit­i­zens achieve a full mea­sure of their rights as Americans.

The Civil Rights Act passed the Sen­ate with a vote of 73–27 on June 19.

On June 21, the same day on which three civil rights work­ers were kid­napped and mur­dered in Mis­sis­sippi, the Illi­nois Rally for Civil Rights was held at Chicago’s Sol­dier Field. The Anti-Defamation League was among the spon­sors of the rally, which fea­tured the Rev­erend Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. The rally was planned to urge pas­sage by the Sen­ate, but was ulti­mately anti-climactic, as pas­sage by the House was the immi­nent. ADL’s Mid­west Direc­tor A. Abott Rosen described the day:

There was no ques­tion of Jew­ish par­tic­i­pa­tion, there were no sus­pi­cions on the parts of blacks of Jews or other whites on this glo­ri­ous day. We didn’t take a head count of the num­ber of blacks and the num­ber of wSigning_of_Civil_Rights_Acthites present in Sol­diers Field that day, but to my eye, I would sug­gest that the group was almost equally divided.

On July 2, the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives voted by more than a two-thirds mar­gin (289–126) to adopt the Senate-passed ver­sion of the Civil Rights Act. That day, Pres­i­dent John­son signed the bill in a nation­ally broad­cast ceremony.

ADL’s National Pro­gram Direc­tor Oscar Cohen later recalled:

The ques­tion arose in ADL cir­cles fre­quently as to why ADL was so totally involved with the strug­gle for equal rights for blacks … First, we claimed, that no minor­ity was safe unless all minori­ties were and prej­u­dice and dis­crim­i­na­tion could not be cured in our soci­ety unless the cure related to all minori­ties … if civil rights laws were passed, such as fair employ­ment and fair hous­ing laws, they would at one stroke elim­i­nate dis­crim­i­na­tion against all groups, includ­ing Jews.

Today, ADL is help­ing to lead a very large coali­tion work­ing to fight dis­crim­i­na­tion, pro­mote equal­ity, and pro­tect the same vot­ing rights for which civil rights work­ers Michael Schw­erner, Andrew Good­man, and James Chaney gave their lives. The League is urg­ing broad sup­port for the Vot­ing Rights Amend­ment Act of 2014 (VRAA), which would cre­ate a new for­mula for pre-clearing vot­ing rights changes.

Fifty years later, ADL com­mem­o­rates the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a para­mount step towards our core value “to secure jus­tice and fair treat­ment for all” and reaf­firms our ded­i­ca­tion to con­tinue the fight in the ongo­ing strug­gle for equality.

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July 2, 2014 0

From the Archives: ADL & the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Part 2

Civil_rights_leaders_WH_meeting_22_June_1963

Abbie Rowe. White House Pho­tographs. John F. Kennedy Pres­i­den­tial Library and Museum, Boston Civil rights lead­ers pose with Attor­ney Gen­eral Robert F. Kennedy and Vice Pres­i­dent Lyn­don B. John­son at a meet­ing at the White House on 22 June 1963. ADL National Direc­tor Ben­jamin Epstein stands to the right of Rev. Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. and Attor­ney Gen­eral Robert F. Kennedy

In Jan­u­ary 1964, two months after Pres­i­dent Kennedy’s death, ADL released its annual report on Con­gress and civil rights, declar­ing that because of Pres­i­dent Johnson’s “unmatched knowl­edge” of Con­gress, “it is now more pos­si­ble to pass” the Civil Rights Act that Pres­i­dent Kennedy had intro­duced in a tele­vised speech the pre­vi­ous year.

On Jan­u­ary 31 Sen­a­tor Edward M. Kennedy, in his first pub­lic appear­ance in New York since the death of his brother, addressed the 51st annual meet­ing of ADL. Sen­a­tor Kennedy told the audi­ence that the civil rights bill “will pass the House unweak­ened” and that only a fil­i­buster could stop a Sen­ate major­ity “ready and will­ing to vote for it.” Ten days later, the House passed the bill by a vote of 290 to 130 and sent it to the Sen­ate, where it met a filibuster.

Soon after the fil­i­buster began, Sen­a­tors Abra­ham Ribi­coff and Jacob Jav­its received ADL’s 1964 Human Rights Award. They spoke about the bill in their accep­tance speech dur­ing the April 9 cer­e­mony, express­ing con­cern about the “‘so-called white back­lash’ on civil rights in the North” and warn­ing that “pas­sage of the Civil Rights Bill would solve no prob­lems unless ‘the ulti­mate respon­si­bil­ity for civil rights’ is accepted by indi­vid­ual Americans.’”

In late April, ADL National Chair­man Dore Schary announced plans to con­vene a meet­ing of 120 Jew­ish busi­ness, pro­fes­sional, and civil lead­ers from all over the United States “to sound an alarm that time was run­ning out” and “to urge that the Bill then under debate be passed with­out weak­en­ing dele­tions and amend­ments.” Said Schary of the Wash­ing­ton, DC, event:

“This meet­ing in the nation’s cap­i­tal is an all-out effort by a group of lead­ing cit­i­zens to aid their coun­try in what they con­sider to be the most crit­i­cal moment in one of the gravest crises in the past cen­tury. They believe that if the Civil Rights Act is not passed soon, the nation faces dan­ger­ous dis­or­der in the com­ing sum­mer months.”

The group, com­prised of judges, munic­i­pal offi­cials, per­form­ers in the arts, finan­cial and indus­trial lead­ers from 30 states, first con­ferred with Admin­is­tra­tion and Sen­ate spokes­men, and then called or met with their home-state leg­is­la­tors. The group also vis­ited Arling­ton National Ceme­tery to “pay their respects to the mem­ory of Pres­i­dent Kennedy and leave a flo­ral spray at the graveside.”

ADL National Direc­tor Ben­jamin R. Epstein later recalled the meet­ing in Not the Work of a Day, not­ing its suc­cess: “[B]y jiminy, it worked, and it was because it was an intel­li­gent approach to lob­by­ing, a per­fectly legit­i­mate way of achiev­ing a pur­pose in a demo­c­ra­tic soci­ety.” Min­nesota Sen­a­tor Hubert Humphrey wrote to say: “I am for­ever grate­ful … for the ADL’s visit to Wash­ing­ton on behalf of the Civil Rights Bill. The busi­ness lead­ers who gave of their valu­able time … per­formed an indis­pen­si­ble ser­vice. I know from con­ver­sa­tions with many Sen­a­tors that their vis­its were truly effective.”

To be continued…

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