Recalling Sam Lacy of the 'Afro-American'

By Bartholomew, Rafe | Editor & Publisher, May 19, 2003 | Go to article overview

Recalling Sam Lacy of the 'Afro-American'


Bartholomew, Rafe, Editor & Publisher


Chronicling Jackie Robinson's dramatic move into history, Lacy made a bit of his own

Sam Lacy, the sports editor and columnist for The Afro-American Newspapers in Baltimore and Washington who died May 8 at the age of 99 in the nation's capital, played a vital role in the integration of Major League Baseball and spent much of his nearly 70-year career in journalism writing about the struggles and triumphs of minority athletes.

"He was a monument in the business," Bob Wolff told E&P last week. Wolff, the longtime Washington Senators announcer who was named to the broadcasters' wing of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995, knew Lacy as a gentle soul. "I never was conscious of whether he was black or white," Wolff said. "I just knew he was a hell of a guy."

Lacy covered many important events outside baseball, including Jesse Owens' defiant performance at the Olympic Games in 1936 and Lee Elder's becoming the first black golfer to compete in the Masters Tournament in 1975. He kept writing until the very end. He filed his last column from his hospital bed, and it ran in both Afro-American weeklies the day after his death. "It seems that Father Time suggested that my 99-year- old plumbing needed an overhaul," he wrote. "So, here I sit with my TV, radio, newspaper, and plenty of service with a smile." Understatement was always one of his hallmarks.

The nimble-minded nonagenarian was probably best known for the influential role he played in breaking baseball's color barrier. He exhorted major-league owners to sign black players throughout the 1930s and '40s while writing for the Washington Tribune, the Chicago Defender, and eventually the Afro-American. He advised Brooklyn Dodgers co-owner Branch Rickey to sign Jackie Robinson and make him the first black player in the majors. Robinson was signed as a minor-leaguer in 1945 and was a Dodger by 1947. But the humble Lacy always downplayed his role in baseball's integration. …

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