“This thing called segregation here is a complete and solid pattern as a way of life. We are conditioned to it and make the best of a bad situation.” ~ Rosa Parks
It is synchronicity, I guess, that allowed me to discover this week the Library of Congress’s digitized online collection of the papers and photos of Rosa Parks, the civil rights pioneer. (It was all because of pancakes, and I’ll get to that soon enough.)
(You can find the Library of Congress collection here. )
Parks refused to give her bus seat to a white man in 1955, which led to the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott which led to the civil rights era which led to the end of segregation … eventually.
Parks being fingerprinted by Montgomery police during the bus boycott
Parks refused to give her bus seat to a white man eight years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball.
Which shows you how important, and yet how unfinished, Robinson’s achievement was.
When we celebrated Jackie Robinson a few weeks ago, we celebrated the end of one teeny-tiny little piece of segregation in America. We celebrated – in a very big way – what was, if you think about it, a small first step.
It was an important step. And, we should celebrate that.
But, we shouldn’t just pat ourselves on the back and think, Well, good for us. We fixed it.
Because ending the color barrier in baseball was just one thing.
There was still a color barrier in schools. On busses. At lunch counters. In department stores. In libraries. In churches. (Churches!) (Seriously, think about that for a second. Segregated churches.)
And, at baseball games. Because, Jackie Robinson may have broken the color barrier on the baseball diamond in 1947, but the fans who came to the game that day? Still segregated. (Wrap your head around that.)
It’s like killing a bed bug on your mattress and thinking your job is finished only to find – eight years later – that a billion bed bugs are still living between the mattress and the box spring.
Jackie Robinson and Rosa Parks should be our reminder of how far we have come in the fight for civil rights.
Baltimore Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones should be our reminder of how far we have left to go.
This past week, Jones made headlines for calling out fans in Boston who yelled the “N” word at him and threw peanuts at him during a game.
Mean-spirited, intolerant, and racist actions are despicable. In the days that followed the Jones’ incident, other black ballplayers came out and said they too had been harassed by racist fans.
Sure, not every body. Not every fan.
The next night, fans in Boston gave Jones a long and warm standing ovation to prove just that. Not every body.
But, still … if there’s just one … just one. Then we’re not done.
Some sportswriters didn’t believe Jones, demanding proof. Increasingly unlikeable retired pitcher Curt Schilling said that without proof, Jones’ accusations are “bullsh*t.” Which, if you ask me, is a bullsh*t and ignorant thing to say.
(“Increasingly unlikeable” is the nicest thing I can say about Schilling on here.)
Major League Baseball issued a statement insisting that racist fan behavior will not be tolerated.
At Friday’s game at Camden Yards, the Orioles first game back at home since the Boston series, this message was issued before the game:
If you still have to tell people that “hate speech” is unacceptable, you’ve probably still got a ways to go.
The “N” word was everywhere in Jackie Robinson’s day. And, in Rosa Parks’ day.
And, apparently, it’s still out there today.
But, at least, we were outraged this week. Major League Baseball said hateful behavior won’t be tolerated. I don’t want to think that’s just lip service.
Acknowledging the problem and working to fix it, that’s a step forward, isn’t it?
A baby step.
About a year or so after the bus boycott, sometime between 1956 and 1958, Parks reflected on what segregation and the ugliness of inequality was like:
“So, you see my dear, it is something that seems endless. I could go on and on and there would still be some more to tell.”
And, here we are 60 years later. And, it still seems endless.
I’m glad that Jackie Robinson was stronger than the haters. I’m glad that Rosa Parks was stronger than the haters. Reverend King. Ruby Bridges. John Lewis. All stronger than the haters.
And, Adam Jones, too. For speaking out. For being stronger than the haters.
Maybe someday we’ll all be strong. Stronger than the haters.
But, wait. Just one more thing.
Tucked away in Rosa Parks’ papers is her recipe for “Featherlite Pancakes,” handwritten on the back of an envelope.
NPR mentioned it last week and that’s how I found her collection of papers.
We made the pancakes this morning. Maybe just to feel a connection to her and a time long ago, that wasn’t really all that long ago.
(Don’t leave out the peanut butter. Make them just as she has written. Trust me – and Rosa – on this.)
They were delicious.