One Nation under Baseball: How the 1960s Collided with the National Pastime

By John Florio; Ouisie Shapiro | Go to book overview

5

In 1963 Birmingham, Alabama, had the dubious honor of being the country’s most racially divided city.

It was there that Martin Luther King had waged a series of nonviolent protests targeting segregation—and where the commissioner of public safety, Bull Connor, responded by unleashing the city’s firemen and police officers on the demonstrators. The ad hoc militia turned high-pressure hoses and raging water cannons on the black protesters, and salivating German Shepherds on civilians as young as six years old.

On May 13, Jackie Robinson flew to Birmingham to lend support to King’s cause. With him was Floyd Patterson, who’d lost the heavyweight championship to Sonny Liston eight months earlier and was in the midst of training for a rematch.

The two athletes arrived in Birmingham just as the city was spiraling into more violence. Two nights earlier, members of the Ku Klux Klan had bombed the home of the Reverend A. D. King, Martin’s younger brother, destroying the front half of the house and driving the reverend, his wife, and five children out of their beds and into the night. The following day, the Klan struck again, blowing up the black-owned Gaston Motel, targeting room 30, the one that Martin Luther King used as his Birmingham headquarters. The bombs destroyed a chunk of the hotel but again missed their intended target—King was in Atlanta at the time. The attacks brought more demonstrators, more cops, more police dogs, more fire hoses, and more armored cars to Birmingham.

Despite death threats, Robinson and Patterson spent the night in the portion of the Gaston that had been spared. In the morning, at a rally in front of the First Street Baptist Church, Robinson lambasted Bull Connor in front of two thousand cheering demonstrators. At a second

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One Nation under Baseball: How the 1960s Collided with the National Pastime
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Foreword Bob Costas vii
  • A Note to the Reader ix
  • 1 1
  • 2 8
  • 3 23
  • 4 31
  • 5 43
  • 6 51
  • 7 58
  • 8 65
  • 9 72
  • 10 86
  • 11 100
  • 12 111
  • 13 126
  • 14 129
  • 15 138
  • 16 150
  • 17 156
  • 18 164
  • 19 173
  • 20 180
  • 21 192
  • Epilogue- 1975 201
  • Acknowledgments 203
  • Bibliography 205
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