Cleveland at the Center of a New, Integrated America

July 4, 1948

On Independence Day, it’s a point of pride to see the professional sports integrated.

And the city of Cleveland is leading the way.

One year ago, team owner Bill Veeck signed Larry Doby from the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League, the first player to go directly from the Negro Leagues to the Major Leagues. Doby’s been kept out of the lineup for the past week, but Cleveland fans have supported Doby, be it out of colorblindness or the kind of acceptance on merit that can only come from a city that hasn’t seen a pennant winner since the early days of Prohibition.

But the city has been supportive of black athletes. When Paul Brown started drafting for the Browns, he had no qualms about taking black players, including Canton McKinley graduate Marion Motley and Bill Willis from Ohio State.

Rumor had it that Veeck was going to buy the Philadelphia Phillies and integrate the majors, but institutionalized racism and World War II intervened to prevent him from doing so. However, he has no qualms signing black or foreign-born players, as the Indians prior to this season signed both Cuban Orestes Minoso and Mexican Bobby Avila.

And this spring in Canton, Clearview Golf Club, the first club designed and owned by a black man, opened for business. William J. Powell, a Wilberforce alumnus, spent time on the links in England during World War II, and found many golf courses in the United States unavailable to him, so he started his own.

The world has changed since the end of World War II, and America has changed as well – hopefully for the better. After battling evil and making the world safe for democracy, black soldiers – like Jackie Robinson, the first black man to play in the major leagues – came home to find a nation that wasn’t welcoming or even fair to them.

But in the end, sports is a true meritocracy, and talent always rises to the top. Leo Durocher said he was colorblind – as long as Jackie Robinson helped him win. The Browns remain the class of the All-American Conference, the Dodgers are defending National League champions and the Indians are currently leading the American League.

Integration in sports isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the key to winning. Perhaps the armed forces could take a lesson from the Dodgers, Indians, Browns and Los Angeles Rams.

Photo: thenationalpastimemuseum.com

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