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Breaking Barriers Symposium

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

On Wednesday and Thursday night of last week, HPJ and the Office of Multicultural Developments put on the Breaking Barriers Symposium: the Role of Baseball on Integration. The symposium was scheduled for those days because April 15th was the 63rd anniversary of Jackie Robinson's debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

The Symposium began on Wednesday night when Dr. Crawford introduced the purpose of the events, which sought to remind students of the role that baseball players such as Larry Doby and Jackie Robinson played in the story of the integration of American society. Dr. Bob Carrothers then provided introductory remarks on the struggles faced by minorities who became barrier breakers in Major League Baseball, and introduced the documentary Pride Against Prejudice: the Larry Doby Story.

After viewing clips from the documentary, students heard from Bill Robinson, Assistant to the President at ONU, who worked as Traveling Secretary for the Cleveland Indians in 1947, when Doby became the first black player in the American League. Robinson told the audience that it was difficult for young people to imagine what segregated America was like in those days, telling them of white crowds trying to overturn a cab that he and Doby were in, and hurling insults at the player who dared to break the color line. Doby is often forgotten by history because he followed Robinson into professional baseball. He also was thrust into a difficult position with little preparation from Indians owner Bill Veeck.

To watch the first night's talks, click here. If that does not work, or if you are using Windows Media Player, click here.

On Thursday, the symposium moved on to a panel discussion on Jackie Robinson's barrier breaking entry into MLB. Dr. Crawford began by speaking of press reaction to Robinson, which was uniformly positive, and Crawford argued that this was designed to teach the larger society that African-Americans could and should be a part of the mainstream. Dr. Ray I. Schuck, from the Communications Department at Bowling Green State University, spoke next about the missed opportunities that Robinson's entry concealed, such as the possibility of the merger of MLB with the Negro Leagues, which would have brought in more players immediately and also brought in black ownership, something that is still missing. Dr. Mike Butterworth, also of BGSU, then discussed the path from Jackie Robinson to President Barrack Obama. Obama himself told Willie Mays that absent the efforts of athletes such as Robinson and Mays, his election as president of the nation would not likely have been possible. Ending the panel discussion, Clyde Pickett of the Office of Multicultural Development spoke about the evolving image of black athletes from Robinson's day to the present. While Robinson's image was carefully managed to be non-threatening to white America, later athletes were free to be themselves, and athletes such as Michael Jordan became global symbols.

Both evenings drew good crowds and the audiences supplied great questions for discussion. The event was a success and gave students a view of the long struggle for Civil Rights that is often overlooked.