Designed to educate visitors about Jackie Robinson Ball Park history in
Daytona Beach, Florida.
WHY THE FIRST RACIALLY INTEGRATED SPRING TRAINING IN MODERN PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL TOOK PLACE IN DAYTONA BEACH IN 1946
In 1946 under Plessy v. Ferguson cruel segregation laws ruled the South. Daytona Beach had a different culture and political reputation than the rest of the South because of the impact of Bethune-Cookman, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, and other civic leaders. There were many northern tourists. These northerners, unaccustomed to segregation, attended baseball games. They also attended Sunday gatherings, to hear music at Bethune-Cookman, where segregation laws had always been ignored since the college was founded.
Branch Rickey was running the Cardinal organization when he held Spring Training in Daytona Beach in 1937. For years he worked with Daytona Beach city officials to have a minor league team here. Rickey had to see the political impact of Mrs. Bethune in Daytona Beach, and what she had accomplished with Eleanor Roosevelt as an advisor to the President during the Depression and World War II. In 1946 Rickey was running the Dodger organization, and Daytona Beach was his Spring Training base choice for the Dodgers and Brooklyn’s top farm team, the Montreal Royals. Rickey had made national news by signing former Negro League star players Jackie Robinson and John Wright to play for Montreal.
Before Rickey agreed to hold Spring Training in Daytona Beach with the Dodgers and Royals, he had an assurance from city officials that integrated baseball would be allowed. Bethune and her political allies created the political climate where Mayor William Perry and City Manager James Titus chose to make an exception to segregation laws that could be applied to baseball. “They (Jackie Robinson & John Wright) are entertainers-baseball is entertainment. We have had hundreds of Negro entertainers here in the past,” Perry told the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper.
On March 17, 1946 the first racially integrated Spring Training game took place in Daytona Beach. Fans at City Island were the first in America to support Robinson as he began his legendary career with the Dodger organization. Robinson remembered in his book My Own Story that after his March 17 game that, “I knew of course, that everyone wasn’t pulling for me to make good, but I was sure now that the whole world wasn’t lined up against me. When I went to sleep, the applause was still ringing in my ears.”
While in Daytona Beach, Mrs. Bethune met with Jackie and his wife Rachel Robinson to give them encouragement. “So Daytona became not only home for us, but Daytona became a symbol of what the South was headed toward,” Rachel Robinson told me. “There could be change and there would be change, and particularly if Negroes got organized and began to deal with the problems in their own city.”
There was so much opposition to integrated baseball that Daytona Beach would be the only city in the South to allow Robinson to play that Spring Training. Games outside of Daytona Beach were all cancelled. Crowd attendance and ticket sales with many northern tourists who applauded Robinson were good. Cities like Jacksonville and DeLand that would not allow integrated baseball, lost revenue by cancelling games. Dodger coach Clyde Sukeforth told me years later after 1946, many of those cities that previously cancelled games insisted on Robinson playing at their ball parks, because of the huge ticket sales he could generate.
Jackie Robinson led the Royals to a minor league championship in 1946. The next year he was promoted to the Dodgers breaking’s modern major league baseball’s color barrier. He had an outstanding Hall of Fame playing career, and is an American hero.
Copyright © 2019 Bill Schumann - All Rights Reserved.