Last weekend, we went to see the new movie on the life of Jackie Robinson. I highly recommend it and in my opinion, it’s one of the better baseball stories ever told. The result of this venture with Mr. Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers’ owner, Branch Rickey, did a lot to begin a major culture shift in America. Eight and a half years before Rosa Parks boarded the bus in December of 1955, Jackie Robinson began his journey into the world of, what was then, an all white-man’s game.

Mr. Rickey, a staunch conservative, passionate abolitionist and devoted Methodist, felt it was one of his higher purposes in life to “put a black man in baseball”.

But he had to find the right man – a man that “had the guts NOT to fight back”. He found that man in Jack Roosevelt Robinson.

I loved the movie so much that I bought a book on Branch Rickey’s life. It’s fascinating, too and it would be great if kids of all ages and all races would read this. I don’t think a lot of them (and a lot of us) are really aware of what it’s taken to get where we are. We’ve come a long way since 1947 . . . but not that far. There’s still a long way to go.

I grew up in the ‘60s in a deep-south small town. A lot of things portrayed in the movie “42” were in my face every day. The “whites only” restroom signs with the same sign over the drinking fountain. I don’t want to grade my own paper too high but, honestly as far as I can recall, I never gave much thought to the differences between people with white skin and those with black skin – just different pigmentations as far as I knew. But know this, I’m honestly leaving room for the possibility of selective memory. My parents were kind people – kind to most everyone, so I guess some of that must have rubbed off on me. I hope so. I never heard either one of them utter derogatory slurs.

My first exposure to a small taste of the fear that some residents of my hometown must have lived with came one night as I watched the reflection of flames bouncing off the bedroom walls. There was a cross burning taking place in front of the high school that was right across the street from our house. To this day, and I’m really not interested in much further education on this topic, I can’t figure out the correlation of a burning cross and white supremacy. I don’t have to think about it for very long to be insulted, angry and saddened (and anything else I might be leaving out) by the thought of the cross – the symbol of my Savior’s sacrifice – being used to further such a cause. I’ll never know the feelings of the ones that lit the fire or the ones for which the message was intended. It just made me sad.

I’ve told this story before, but the one childhood dream that ended with high school was to be a major league baseball player. I knew from the first time I looked at the other players on the college field, that it just wasn’t gonna happen. I was a boy among men.

Branch Rickey loved baseball, too. And in one of the movie scenes, Jackie Robinson asked, “Mr. Rickey . . . why are you doin’ this?”. Branch Rickey went on to tell the story of how the joy of the game was stolen from him when he played in college with a black player. He witnessed, first hand, the disgraceful treatment the young man suffered and felt, and that by bringing Jackie Robinson to the big leagues, the joy of the game he loved was coming back to life.

And all because he found a man that had the guts to take it.

Sometimes, it takes the bigger person to “take it”. We’re a country of reactors – myself included. Rather than take in, ponder, pray, then act, we pull the trigger quickly and react without much thought to the consequences. “ . . . Be slow to speak and slow to anger” (James 1:19) – these are good words to live by.

The events of the last week require restraint and pause. The conflicts in my soul are fighting it out and while my inner tough guy wants to simply “bring it” I’m required by my allegiance to Christ to wait, to pray and ponder – to suppress “I tell ya what we ought to do . . .” or “I wish I were there . . . I’d . . .”


Wayne Watson
April 22, 2013