October 19, 2019

Jackie Robinson: The Right Side of History

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” Martin Luther King

Jackie and Me
Indiana Repertory Theatre
Indianapolis
Playing through February 16

Playwright Steven Dietz adapted Jackie and Me from the book series Baseball Card Adventures by Dan Gutman. Dietz recants the Jackie Roosevelt Robinson conversation heard between his 7-year-old white daughter and 6-year-old black son, a recent adoptee from Ethiopia. 

His daughter, the family baseball historian, tells her brother about Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier and adds “But if you were black you could not play.” The brother counters, “Why not? I play. I play ball.” He goes on in his newly learned language: “I have mitt; I have bat; they not stop me.”

I cannot help but hear my granddaughters, Zoe and Reese, in his voice. “I can do it. I play ball, they not stop me.”  Yes the nature of youth — not encumbered with prejudices, limitations, or beliefs. Thankfully they trust they can do or be anything. Unfortunately they learn limitations from the actions of others.

Dietz’s daughter ultimately gets frustrated with her new brother and says “Yes you could play the game. But you could not dream.” At this early age, she gets the nature of prejudice and understands the limitations of our dreaming.

How do we continue to learn from history? How do we avoid the preconceptions and prejudiced judgments of the past? How do we keep our dreams alive and create a country with equal ability to dream and to achieve? Jackie and Me centers on Joey, a white youngster of today. Joey is researching for a book report — wanting to win the top prize of theme park tickets.  He is transported back in time as a black youth to 1947, where he wants to learn about Jackie, the black baseball player.  Of course, the history lesson is expanded beyond his ideas of baseball.

Joey is thirsty and walks up to a “whites only” fountain. As he is chased away, imagine how he feels realizing he is black! Then he meets Rachel Robinson and sees Jackie again. Anger, disbelief, frustration and eventually courage — Joey learns to deal with a mix of emotions as Jackie and Rachel Robinson show the way with pride, patience and perseverance.  

Dodger teammate Dixie Walker did not want to share the field or the club house with a black man. At the same time teammate Pee Wee Reese, a Kentuckian, responds differently standing with Jackie in the face of racism. Eventually, Walker quietly offers that he was “just brought up that way and had little choice in his beliefs.”

How often do we say or think: “that’s just the way it is / just the way I learned / just the way he/she acts?” We may even add: “I can’t do anything about it / I can’t change it / I just want to mind my own business.”

COURAGE — General Manager Branch Rickey and player Pee Wee Reese display bravery to stand up for the right side of history. Rickey signs Robinson. When Pee Wee Reese accepts Robinson to the team, it helps other teammates adjust. Baseball adapts, the world doesn’t end, and black players become part of major league baseball.   

Dr. King said “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.  Work continues towards his Dream.

So in 1947, while racism did not stop, they all play the game together with a “new norm” for baseball; the country takes a giant step toward the right side of history.

May each of us, individuals, parents and grandparents, practice genuine tolerance, teach acceptance and demonstrate decency that reflects the encouragement of children’s dreams for accomplishment regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation.

Bill

(Some information from IRT playbill)