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Friday, March 10, 2006

Fight for civil rights began with 1946 spring training

"To Chris Lamb, Jackie Robinson's story was about more than baseball. People usually forget the fight for integration that came before the civil rights movement began, Lamb said.

"'When we do that, we miss 90 percent of the story,' said Lamb, an associate professor at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. 'The civil rights movement begins with Jackie Robinson.'"

"Robinson's story began on Feb. 28, 1946, when he and his wife left Los Angeles headed to Florida for spring training. During the trip, they were twice bumped from flights to make room for white passengers. After being bumped from a connecting flight in Pensacola, Robinson and his wife hopped on a bus to finish the trip. While on the bus, he was told to move to the back. Lamb said the decision to move was hard for Robinson, who was court-martialed by the U.S. Army for refusing to do the same thing.

"'This was probably the first time he deferred to a racial slight,' Lamb said. 'You have this symmetry of Robinson challenging segregation in the Army. He's put out; he can now challenge segregation in baseball—and restrains himself on the bus because if he screws up, the whole experiment fails. After the trip (to Daytona Beach), he wanted to quit.

"'He puts a cause ahead of himself,' said Lamb.

"Participating in training exercises were also a challenge. Daytona Beach was the only city on the schedule that allowed him to participate. In Sanford, rules barred whites and blacks from playing on the same field. In DeLand, Lamb said officials canceled a game because 'the lights weren't working.'

"The game had been scheduled during the day." ...

"Last week, the National Baseball Hall of Fame inducted 17 Negro League members. While the effort should be applauded, Lamb said bringing them all on board at one time dilutes the act. He also said leaving out Buck O'Neil, a Sarasota resident who played in the Negro Leagues and broke the color barrier as the first black coach in Major League Baseball, may be a mistake."

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