A letter of Urgency #2

By Ismail Yassin

 

 

During the civil rights movement there were many letters that were sent to address the issues of inequality, but one letter that I found very interesting was the letter sent by Jackie Robinson to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Many influential activists were working to strengthen black power, but although Jackie Robinson was just trying to play in the Major League Baseball the same as white men did, he ended up becoming a civil rights activist. I watched the movie 42 and was very interested in finding out whether the movie was depicted exactly as the true story, so I snooped around and came across the letter where Jackie addresses the president himself. This letter had to do with sports and one of the reasons I wanted to write about it is because I’m a huge soccer fan and wanted to write about something that shows racism in sports.

Discrimination in sport is still a big concern today and the punishments for it are not severe enough to completely eradicate it. I was watching a soccer game a few years back and the fans threw a banana at one of the black players in the opposing team while imitating monkey sounds and when he decided to go off the pitch, he was the one punished instead with a suspension. This letter addressed the racist issues that blacks had to deal with on daily basis, where they could not walk on the streets or take the bus without being racially abused if not physically. I don’t know how anyone can concentrate and do sport with racist chants and also with fear that anything could happen anytime. Jackies courage to do what he loved even when he knew the world was against him is something that inspired a lot of blacks at the time and keeps inspiring more people like myself.

The letter was written by Jackie Robinson who was born on January 31, 1919 in Cairo, Georgia. He was the first black player to play in the Major League Baseball and was literally the first person to break the color barrier in baseball [1]. Even though he served as a second Lieutenant in the US army without actual combat [2], he was arrested in 1944 for not giving his seat up in a bus but was later discharged honorably with help from the NAACP and several black newspapers. He retired in 1956 and knowing that he had a good reputation and was seen as a good image, he decided to address the issues of racism. He wrote this letter in response to President Dwight Eisenhower when he said blacks need to be “patient” in civil rights and integration [1]. His motivation for such a straightforward letter was because even the most educated and liberal of whites such as the president were not ready for blacks to have their equality instantly. They were influenced by fear of what could happen if rights were guaranteed suddenly and Jackie was in no mood to wait any longer.

The letter was sent on May 13, 1958 which was when black power and the civil rights movement were gaining strength. It was at this time that the Supreme Court outlawed school segregation and the Montgomery bus boycott began the end of segregated buses. Each of these movements further gave blacks hope and courage to try to get equality. It was around the time when Martin Luther King, Charles K. Steele and Fred L Shuttlesworth established the SCLC which became a driving force in black power as a nonviolence and civil disobedience group. When blacks could not use the bathroom, bus, or even had to attend segregated schools due to the Jim Crow laws that meant freedom didn’t mean equality, there was only one way to get back black rights, which is what the various movements and groups such as the NAACP (right centered), SCLC (center) and the SNCC (left) did to make equality a law.

At the time the letter was a way African Americans could express their thoughts and believes through their leaders and voice that directly to a leader such as the President at the time. Today its meaning still remains the same because that sense of urgency for freedom and equality should not be something people demand, but rather something they already have. Jackie Robinson was put into the Baseball hall of fame in 1962 [2] and his shirt number 42 was retired in 1972 as a sign for his achievements both in baseball and what he did for black power. He worked with NAACP till 1967 [2] and his contributions have played a huge role in how black power groups shaped black liberty and justice. Just as Martin Luther Kings famous letter from Birmingham jail, this letter also addressed how blacks were tired of waiting. Reading the letter today, its reasoning still remains the same.

Jackie Robinson addressed how basic rights were denied to blacks and it’s very interesting to note that after emancipation blacks were steered into segregated neighborhoods. The fight for fair housing is something that blacks continued to do all the way through the post-civil rights era and even continue to do so today. Not only are blacks discriminated against, but they’re also much more likely to end up in Jail [3]. Whites and blacks continue to sell drugs and engage in criminal behaviors at the same rate, but blacks are much more likely to get caught and get convicted. The black population in prisons is staggering [3]. Blacks are still discriminated against whether it is buying a house and getting subprime loans that have made blacks lose decades of wealth, or simply in job opportunities.

What I have learned in this course is that the only way to end discrimination is to stand up against it together even with the race that’s causing the oppression. Blacks dealt with racism such as the Jim Crow laws by prioritizing family, singing, and making community rituals that helped one another. Even though laws were passed to segregate minorities, they kept fighting for equality even when Jim Crow laws were torn down. The mission of SNCC was not to stop at integration but to use it as a way to continue on their fight until whites and blacks could stand equally. I have learned that no matter how hard activists fought for equal rights, blacks still continue to lose wealth and land because that racist attitude is not as obvious now but rather hidden. Subprime loans are still given to blacks and other minorities and most can’t know whether or not these are faulty loans. I had no idea what these loans were prior to taking this class and had no idea that they were specially targeted at minorities. Jackies letter symbolizes the right for instant liberty.

 

 

 

 

Citation:

 

[1] “Jackie_Robinson_Letter.” National Archives and Records Administration. National Archives and Records Administration

https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/jackie_robinson_letter/

 

[2] “Jackie Robinson Biography.” Bio.com. A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.

http://www.biography.com/people/jackie-robinson-9460813#related-video-gallery

 

[3] Moore, Antonio. “The Black Male Incarceration Problem Is Real and It’s Catastrophic.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, n.d. February 17, 2015
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/antonio-moore/black-mass-incarceration-statistics_b_6682564.html

Image source: Same as [1].

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