Blackout: The Untold Story of Jackie Robinson's First Spring Training

Article excerpt

Blackout: The Untold Story of Jackie Robinson's First Spring Training. Chris Lamb. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2004. 233 pp. $24.95 pbk.

Jackie Robinson's epitaph, "A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives," represents the selfless and laudable mission of a sports pioneer and American hero. While scholars have described Robinson's plight as the integrator of organized professional baseball in the twentieth century and his unwavering commitment to social change, Chris Lamb's Blackout: The Untold Story of Jackie Robinson's First Spring Training captures the long-term significance of Robinson on baseball and society from another perspective. Lamb adds to the body of work by setting a foundation for understanding the mainstream, black, and Communist press treatments of Robinson in the United States prior to Brown v. Board of Education, the Montgomery bus boycott, the Voting Rights Act, the March on Washington, and the ensuing Civil Rights movement. Lamb elucidates the role of the press in shaping perceptions of "integration, segregation, and civil rights" in a society where individuals were often judged not for depth of character, skills, or achievements, but rather by skin color.

Lamb, an associate professor of media studies at the College of Charleston, writes passionately about his subject, and the strength of his work lies in his keen attention to detail and facts. Lamb began his research in 1993 when he was a columnist for the Oaytona Beach News-Journal. He integrates numerous primary sources, from mainstream and alternative newspapers to books, magazines, journals, interviews, and Smith's personal papers. Lamb bolsters arguments with quotations, yet still exposes the human side of Robinson's struggles. He intersperses experiences and anecdotes shared with wife Rachel, the Pittsburgh Courier's Wendell Smith and Billy Rowe, Dodgers' president Branch Rickey, and Royals' pitcher Johnny Wright, the second black player signed by Rickey. Lamb personalizes events, offering a gut-wrenching vista of this epoch and especially the Jim Crow South, where lynching remained commonplace. The only omission is an overview of Robinson's younger years and formative relationships with mother Mallie and Rev. Karl Downs.

Blackout's most significant contribution is its illustration of the interplay among journalists, media content, and culture. The mainstream press, overall, failed to explicate the importance of Robinson's start of spring training, thereby precluding readers from fully understanding race relations. Mainstream writers perpetuated the myth that anyone could succeed in America's sport with skills and perseverance. What they failed to mention, however, was the "gentlemen's agreement" barring black athletes from baseball since the mid-1880s after Moses Fleetwood Walker and brother Welday played for the Toledo Blue Stockings. …