Jackie Changed It All Robinson Couldn't Play, but His Spirit Triumphed

By Nord, Thomas | The Florida Times Union, April 20, 1997 | Go to article overview

Jackie Changed It All Robinson Couldn't Play, but His Spirit Triumphed


Nord, Thomas, The Florida Times Union


It was in the air that spring. Something big was coming. Bigger

than the Depression. Bigger than the war. Bigger than the

A-bomb.

Those things changed the course of history, to be sure. But in

Carlton Bryant's mind, they didn't open doors for folks like the

change that was coming in the spring of '46.

Jackie Robinson was coming.

Not to Jacksonville; city officials were not in the mood for

social experiments that spring. They canceled the game because

local laws prohibited integrated contests on a city-owned ball

field.

Bryant knew better, of course. A lot of people, black and

white, knew better. Jackie Robinson was coming to America,

whether Jacksonville liked it or not. It would take more than a

padlocked fence and one city's Jim Crow laws to keep a lid on

the revolution.

"It had been rumored all along, that the Dodgers were going to

try something like this," recalled Bryant, who read about Branch

Rickey's exploits in the black press. "So we were not shocked

when Robinson was signed."

Just shy of 70 now, Bryant was a 19-year-old Marine Corps

veteran in March 1946 when the social experiment began steaming

toward Jacksonville.

Spring training was coming to an end. Minor league teams were

barnstorming the state, playing exhibitions in front of

baseball-hungry fans everywhere they could.

This year would be different, of course. Robinson was a

Montreal Royal, a farm team of the Dodgers and, by Bryant's

reckoning, a full-fledged member of that all-white institution

known as the National League.

"It was elation that you just could not believe," Bryant said.

"Finally, the world would see a black performing athletically as

well as anyone."

There had been Joe Louis, of course, and Jesse Owens. The same,

yes, but different, said Jimmie Johnson. This was baseball , the

American game, owned and operated by whites, for whites.

"To see any semblance of integration was beyond our wildest

dreams," said Johnson, 63, known as "Coach" for his years as

both coach and principal at Raines High School. …

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