I just saw a program called,”Boys in the Hall.” It was a description of the Negro Baseball League of the 1930’s and the `940’s. The host was Tom Brokaw and the speaker for most of the program was, Buck O’Neil, a well known Negro League player.
O’Neil recounted the trials and tribulations of the often helter skelter day to day activities, which often included very long bus trips and run down hotels. He surprised me by saying the the Negro League was the third largest African American business enterprise in the U.S. next to a black owned insurance company and a hair products and cosmetic company. That was really news to me.
Buck O’Neil was old enough to have played against Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb and all of the famous negro players- Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Oscar Charleton and many others. However, the one story that he told put me back in mind of my hero Jackie Robinson.
Robinson had been a great athlete at U.C. L.A. and had gone into the military in 1942. His military career ended at the end of the war and he signed on the play with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League.
Robinson had played on an integrated football team and U.C.L. A and had also played football on an integrated semi pro football team in Hawaii. When he traveled with the Monarchs, who stayed at racially segregated facilities, Robinson was not satisfied.
After a game in Kansas City, the team was heading out of town on their bus to the next city. They stopped at a gas station and began to gas up their bus. The sign on the bathroom said, “For whites only.” Robinson headed towards the bathroom. The owner of the station said, “Boy, you can’t go in there.” Robinson said, “Take the pump out of the bus and we are leaving.” The bus had two fifty gallon tanks to fill. The owner looked at the sale and said, “ You can go to the bathroom, but don’t stay in too long.” From that moment on, the Monarchs never stayed or had business with those who would not let them be at their facilities.
Buck O’Neil said that Robinson was the inspiration for the Civil Rights movement in this country and I could not agree more.