By Ted Braun
A wonderful film, “42,” has been showing at the Rocky Top theater in Crossville the last several weeks. It takes us back to 1947 when the lives of two Methodists, Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson, first intertwined.
Rickey then was the chief executive and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team. He was a man with a strong conservative faith who refused to attend games on Sunday, but with a deep conviction that it was God’s will that he integrate baseball. He began looking for a black baseball player who could join the Dodgers and help them win the National League Pennant.
He found such a prospect in Jackie Robinson, who had been with the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro League, and then with the Montreal Royals. Robinson also had a devout faith, a passionate sense of justice, and a strong competitive spirit. Ricky knew that integrating the racist world of professional sports would bring many challenges and that there would be many ugly attacks on Robinson, both verbal and physical. Robinson’s behavior both on and off the field would have to be exemplary, and he could not allow himself to be goaded into retaliation. At their first meeting together, Rickey told Robinson, “You’ve got to have guts not to fight back, but to turn the other cheek.” Robinson agreed.
As it turned out, there was strong opposition, both verbal and physical. Most of the Dodgers’ team members signed a petition stating their refusal to play with Robinson. The Philadelphia Phillies’ manager is depicted as viciously taunting him. After one such taunting, the film shows Robinson going down into the dugout and smashing his bat in anger. This particular scene, however, according to Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s widow, and Ralph Branca, Dodger pitcher that day, did not actually happen. Rachel commented that he knew that he could never show anger in public, so he often stopped by a golf driving range on the way home and hit balls. After hitting several buckets of balls, he was then ready to come home. During those years, Robinson often got down on his knees, asking God for the strength to continue resisting the temptation to fight back.
Robinson’s home run against Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Fritz Ostermueller helped clinch the National League Pennant for the Dodgers in 1947. And the next season, other African American players entered the Major Leagues. Robinson was later inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and his team number “42” retired from use.
Some history-making like this is creative and positive. Other kinds of history-making, however, may not be. An article in last week’s Chronicle reports that the Ku Klux Klan leaders have identified Crossville and Cumberland County as a place of growth for them and are interested in expanding into this area. They are planning to hold a rally in Crossville this coming July. According to their comments, they would be promoting anti-drug messages, the right to bear arms, and getting God back in schools.
Their second purpose is pretty well covered by the NRA and the Tea Party. The third, however, raises all kinds of questions, given the violent history of the KKK. Just what kind of God does the KKK believe in? And does this religion belong in our public schools?
Wikipedia lists the political ideology of the KKK as white supremacy, white nationalism, nativism, anti-communism, Christian terrorism, anti-Catholicism, anti-Semitism, homophobism, and neo-fascism. The first Klan was founded in 1865 in Pulaski, TN. Since then it has gone through a number of rebirths and reformulations.
It will be interesting to find out what kind of history-making it hopes to set in motion here in Cumberland County in July.
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This column is sponsored by Cumberland Countians for Peace and Justice and dedicated by the local writers to the theme that the lion and the lamb can and must learn to live together and grow in their relationship toward one another to ensure a better world. Opinions expressed in “Lion and the Lamb” columns are not necessarily those of the Crossville Chronicle publisher, editor or staff. For more information, contact Ted Braun, editor, at 277-5135.