This is Zirin’s blog post from March 23, but relevant on the 65th Anniversary of Robinson breaking Major League Baseball’s colour barrier:As Jean West, a school teacher in Florida, wrote, “Branch Rickey had miscalculated the degree to which Jim Crow was entrenched in Sanford. As an example, an inanimate object, a second-hand piano, purchased in 1924 from the courthouse for use in a segregated school in nearby Oviedo, was filed as a ‘Negro Piano’ in the school board’s record; living human beings challenging segregation certainly would not be tolerated.”
It wasn’t. The mayor of Sanford was confronted by what the author describes as a “large group of white residents” who “demanded that Robinson…be run out of town.”
The Mayor caved. On March 5th, the Royals were informed that they would not be permitted to take the field as an integrated group. Rickey was concerned for Robinson’s life and sent him to stay in Daytona Beach. His daughter, Sharon Robinson, remembered, “The Robinsons were run out of Sanford, Florida, with threats of violence.”
The team then took an extraordinary step. As the late tennis star Arthur Ashe wrote in A Hard Road to Glory, Rickey, ”moved the entire Dodger pre-season camp from Sanford, Florida, to Daytona Beach due to the oppressive conditions of Sanford.” That sounds heroic and it speaks well for Rickey’s fierce desire to forge ahead with “the Great Experiment,” racists be damned. But the mob in Sanford had made, at least for the moment, a successful stand. In cites and small towns across the South, Jackie Robinson’s mere presence provoked challenges to power and provoked real, meaningful change. In Sanford, change did not come that easily.