When I (John) was a little boy, the only black people I saw were on TV playing baseball. Bob Gibson. Maury Wills. Hank Aaron. WIllie Mays. Willie McCovey. Jim Gilliam. Ernie Banks. John Roseboro. FIfty years later, their names flow effortlessly onto the page. The fact that they were black was of no more interest to me than their shoe size. All that mattered was that they were shining stars in my little-boy baseball universe. They existed alongside Sandy Koufax, who was Jewish; Juan Maarichal, who was Dominican; and Whitey Ford, an aptly named white guy who pitched for the New York Yankees.
It never registered in my young mind that while these black athletes were being cheered on the field, off the field it was a different story. Thousands of white people celebrated when Willie Mays hit a home run or when Bob Gibson pitched a shutout. But once the game was over, many of those same white baseball fans would insist that people who looked like Willie Mays or Bob Gibson should sit in the back of the bus or drink from a different water fountain. They didn’t mind watching the likes of Hank Aaron or Ernie Banks play ball, but they didn’t want their kids going to school together. This went unnoticed by me. My Aaron and Mays baseball cards were sandwiched between the cards of their white counterparts. It was a fully integrated pack. I never thought about the fact that in real life such things were often not allowed.
From “Black and White: Disrupting Racism One Friendship At A Time” by Teesha Hadra and John Hambrick