by iampunha | 7/26/2008 08:00:00 AM
On July 26, 1948, President Harry S. "No, really, it's just S" Truman issued Executive Order 9981.

Unlike FDR's Executive Order 9066, which established internment camps in the U.S., largely for the Japanese, EO 9981 did not enshrine bigotry. Rather, it sought to eliminate it.

This was 83 years after the Civil War, three years after black soldiers had helped liberate France and put Hitler in his place (a hole in the ground), one year after Jackie Robinson had become the face of black baseball players — and 82 years after the Army established the first all-black military regiments, which we know today as the Buffalo Soldiers.

Those Buffalo Soldier regiments are today desegregated, in part because EO 9981 declared "equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin."

For Sitting Bull, who on July 20, 1881, surrendered.

For Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, who on July 21, 1969, took one giant leap for mankind.

For Spilliam Wooner, born on July 22, 1844, who paved the way for his own name to me bangled.

For the lives forever interrupted by Treblinka, which opened on July 23, 1942.

For Alexandre Dumas, born on July 24, 1802, who made prison escape an educational subject.

And for Rosalind Franklin, born on July 25, 1920, whose contributions to the structural knowledge of DNA should be more than a footnote.

In a comment on an entry on baseball, Daily Kos user Yasuragi said:

You can tell the entire history of the US through baseball. Which just gives me chills.

That portion of Yasuragi's comment is pretty accurate. Baseball was functionally all-white from 1889 (when Moses "Fleet" Walker got kicked out) to 1945, and while the genesis of the negro leagues does not mirror black participation in the military, there is a different parallel that strikes me.

In my piece on Henry Ossian Flipper, I quoted Frank W. Sweet at some length. Included among his cited passages is the following:

In short, the nation needed a cadre of African-American families with traditions of military command. The first step was to grow a crop of bright young Black lieutenants. The second step would be to get them married and producing little future colonels and generals. This is why, when Congress ordered the racial integration of the Army in 1867, it was the Black soldiers themselves who talked Congress out of it. Integration then would have condemned African-Americans to the enlisted ranks forever. Segregated regiments were intended as a temporary sheltered greenhouse where the Army could raise its first crop of Black line officers.

I have found little else online regarding any attempt, in 1867 or any other year in the 19th century, suggesting that Congress or the Army ever tried to officially desegregate the Army in the way Truman did. There are the Buffalo Soldiers, and many scholars have pointed out that black and white soldiers worked together plenty in patrolling and securing the Midwest and West in the years after the Civil War.

But it's the notion that the black community recognized that a desegregated military would have no (or scant) opportunities for black advancement that so interests me -- because such a thing has inarguably been a direct result of integration in baseball.

The Negro Leagues -- the established body founded in 1921, and the first league to last any significant amount of time -- gave opportunities to black players, sure. But they also presented business opportunities for black people who couldn't hit but could manage, or who could do marketing or public relations. And for the player who had passed his physical prime but still had all his wits about him, coaching was absolutely an option.

Ted Radcliffe, whose playing days were all but formally behind him when Robinson formally integrated MLB, was coaching Negro League teams in the 1940s. He wasn't the first. The 1921 effort owed a lot of its success to Rube Foster, who in 1921 was 42. (Fitting, no?)

With the formal integration of baseball came the very quick death of the Negro Leagues. And while the best black players were earning spots on MLB teams, the best black coaches weren't exactly getting front-office opportunities. Into the mid-1960s, sports writers often wrote of the black's superior physical skills and the white's superior thinking skills. (The predictions regarding the 1966 NCAA men's basketball championship read like so much Joseph Conrad.)

There are today very few prominent black executives in baseball, but there are few in general who are not what we'd call white. Recently, sports analysts have started worrying about a downswing in the percent of black players in MLB.

The more I heard analysts talking about this, the more I wondered why anyone didn't bother to quote statistics from football or basketball -- or, y'know, the nonsports world. After all, some people use athletics to get scholarships, through which they then get degrees in marketing, economics, public relations, that sort of thing. And where yesterday's middling athlete was making it professionally for a handful of years, today's middling athlete is that really competitive guy in the office who seems to sharpen his elbows for the occasional pickup basketball game.

When I heard that black players represented less than 10 percent of all the MLB players, I wasn't surprised. This was for two reasons:

1) MLB wasn't counting people like Andruw Jones, former Atlanta Brave and current Los Angeles Dodger center fielder, because he is from Curacao, not America, and thus is not considered an African-American.

2) If you have speed, great hands and great hand-eye coordination, are you going to focus on a sport in which you're making big money when you're 25 or one in which you're making big money at 19? I don't begrudge any natural athlete for going where the money is. If I had my way, I'd do exactly the same thing. And factor in the much more hyped college basketball/football season: The NCAA men's basketball championship and the BCS championship receive worlds more attention than the College World Series. Why not take the hint and go where the money and attention are?

A long road I've traveled from President Truman to the media's role in shaping race and sports. But hopefully the quotation with which I began this diary justifies it. And hopefully I've given you something new to think about on this lazy Saturday morning.




Blogger JoshSN on 7/26/2008 7:02 PM:

Blanche Weisen Cook, I believe also a progressive, wrote "The Declassified Eisenhower."

I heard her discuss the book, on C-SPAN's BookTV, in early 2001.

She intimated that Truman's desegregation order was a political calculation. She said quite clearly that little actually changed. She said that it was only when Eisenhower became President that it actually happened, and that Eisenhower himself was going around to military bases, dealing with every "sh*t bird colonel" who wasn't complying.

I might be accused, generally speaking, of being someone who generally looks at the Senator from Pendergast as America's other worst President of the last 80 years.