August 12, 2016


'Chasing Dreams: Baseball and Becoming American' : A new exhibit spotlights American Jews' struggle for racial equality in baseball. (Peter Dreier, August 12, 2016, American Prospect)

A glorious exhibit, Chasing Dreams: Baseball and Becoming American, refracts that history through the lens of baseball. The exhibit displays over 130 artifacts, original films, and interactive experiences that highlight how Jews and other minority groups, including Italians, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and others, used baseball to help them find common ground as Americans. It documents the country's history of immigration, ethnic and racial conflict, tensions between group identity and assimilation, and crusades to challenge bigotry and dismantle discrimination. Organized by the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, it will be on display at the Skirball Museum in Los Angeles through October 30, the American Jewish Historical Society in New York through July 2017, and other cities.

It is difficult today to imagine the excitement that greeted Jackie Robinson when he broke baseball's color barrier in 1947. His success on the baseball diamond--he won the Rookie of the Year Award that season--was a symbol of the promise of a racially integrated society. The dignity with which Robinson handled his encounters with racist players and fans and dealt with Jim Crow on the road in hotels, restaurants, trains, and other public places drew public attention to the issue. His experiences stirred the consciences of many white Americans and gave black Americans a tremendous boost of pride and self-confidence.

By hiring Robinson, the Dodgers earned the loyalty of millions of black Americans from across the country. But the team also gained the allegiance of many white Americans, most fiercely American Jews, especially those in the immigrant and second-generation neighborhoods of America's big cities, who believed that integrating our national pastime was a critical steppingstone to tearing down many other obstacles to equal treatment. 

Despite the fact that Americans fought in World War II in part to end Hitler's persecution of Jews, anti-Semitism was still widespread in postwar America. Throughout the country, colleges, employers, real estate agents and homebuilders, hotels, resorts, and country clubs still discriminated against Jews. In this climate, Jews and African Americans were natural allies, and Jewish groups were at the forefront of campaigns to integrate housing and break down other barriers for both groups.

One of the most interesting artifacts in the Chasing Dreams exhibit is a 1948 poster portraying four white boys and one African American boy holding bats and gloves, preparing for a game of baseball. One of the white boys, clearly upset, tells another white player, "What's his race or religion got to do with it? He can pitch!"

The caption on the poster says: "Keep pitching for EQUAL RIGHTS for all Americans. Remember--Home runs are made by children of every race, color, creed, and national origin. FIGHT FOR racial and religious understanding."

The poster was part of a campaign in Cincinnati to promote religious and racial understanding. In 1948, as the Brooklyn Dodgers were prepared to meet the Cincinnati Reds, Mayor Albert D. Cash used the occasion to collaborate with Phil Goldsmith, owner of Goldsmith Sporting Goods and local president of B'nai B'rith, a Jewish fraternal and service organization, in an effort to combat prejudice and discrimination. 

Posted by at August 12, 2016 8:53 AM