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Brushing Back Jim Crow The Integration ofMinor-League BasebaU in the American South By Bruce Adelson University Press ofVirginia, 1999 275 pp. Cloth, $27.95 Reviewed by Steven F. Lawson, minor-league baseball fan, professor of history at Rutgers UniversityNew Brunswick, and co-author with Charles Payne ofDebating the CivilRights Movement, 194J—1968 from Rowman-Littlefield, 1998. For basebaU fans and students of race relations, Jackie Robinson looms large in the history of sports and civil rights. This African American pioneer broke the color barrier in the major leagues and combined a distinguished baseball career for the Brooklyn Dodgers with a commitment to speaking out against racial injustice . Yet it took more than a decade after his arrival with the Dodgers for the Boston Red Sox to become die final team in the majors to field a black player, and it took even longer for minor-league baseball to become fuUy integrated, with southern teams the last holdouts. Bruce Adelson has uncovered this lost story of the struggle to integrate minor-league basebaU, and in doing so he has underscored the importance of the story by connecting events in the baUpark to the broader battle to dismande racial segregation in the South. When Robinson joined the Dodgers in 1947, 175 towns and cities throughout the South had minor-league teams, but no black baUplayers foUowed immediately in his footsteps to integrate basebaU's lower echelon. Only in 1952 did a few southern teams sign blacks to play regularly. The names of those first players— Percy MUlerJr., Nat Peeples, andJim and Leander Tugerson—have largely been forgotten because these men never made it to the majors. Nevertheless, they paved the way for the stars—Henry Aaron, FeUpe Alou, BiUy WilUams—each of whom played in the mid-1950s in the minor leagues in Dixie before going on to careers in the majors. Not until 1964, however, were black baUplayers commonly accepted throughout the soudiern minor leagues. The careers ofAfrican American professional basebaU players in the Soudi became intertwined with the struggle for racial equaUty that gained momentum in the 1950s and 1960s. Although black minorleaguers were not civü rights activists, they saw themselves as heirs toJackie Robinson's legacy and hoped that their successful performance on the field would chaUenge the perception that African Americans were inferior to whites. To counter this, white segregationists fought Reviews 89 hard to keep blacks and whites from playing together on the same basebaU diamonds . The smaU progress blacks made to integrate the minors before 1954 met increasing resistance after the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. the Board of Education oudawed racial segregation in the pubUc schools. In its wake, the Deep South massively resisted federaUy supported black attempts to gain first-class citizenship and banned integrated athletic contests. Segregationists propounded a domino theory ofrace relations and appUed their beUefs to the realm of sport: if the basebaU diamonds feU to equal access, other segregated practices throughout southern society would topple. Just as minor-league basebaU reflected die broader currents ofsouthern opposition to racial integration, so too did the black response to continued discrimination . Blacks used economic boycotts to chaUenge racial bias in local businesses, and blacks also withheld their support of basebaU teams that refused to play African Americans. The boycotts of Uly-white teams created a severe financial hardship for these franchises and often resulted in their coUapse, which in turn led other team owners to desegregate only in order to bring additional customers through the turnstiles. In fact, black fans turned out in record numbers whenever black athletes took the field. By contrast, the Southern Association, a league that operated in the Deep South and resisted aU efforts at desegregation, folded by 1961 in part due to a dearth ofpaying black customers. Adelson's text reUes on over fifty African American and white newspapers and lengthy interviews with black basebaU pioneers. He argues that in the process of integrating minor-league basebaU, black players paved the way for the desegregation ofpubüc Ufe in the South. Most importandy, Adelson contends that by competing successfuUy alongside whites, blacks demoüshed the pernicious white myth that African Americans were inferior. Whüe...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 89-91
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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