Anyone who knows anything about baseball knows that Jackie Robinson broke the sport’s color barrier in 1947 as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
What’s less known is that he also broke the color barrier in Georgia.
Robinson, a native of Cairo, was the first black professional baseball player to step onto the field against white players during an April 7, 1949, exhibition game against the Macon Peaches at Luther Williams Field, which Brooklyn won 11-2.
An article in the Macon Telegraph the next day noted that “the appearance of Robinson marked the first time a Negro has competed against white players in Georgia.”
The announced attendance for the game was a record 6,436, with whites sitting on the first base side of the stadium and blacks sitting on the third base side.
Bobby Pope, executive director of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, said he thinks the crowd was the largest at the stadium until 1964, when Macon native John “Blue Moon” Odom came to town while pitching for the Birmingham Barons of the Southern League.
Now, 63 years later, a new motion picture about Robinson’s life, titled “42,” is set to film in Macon. That was Robinson’s jersey number, which Major League Baseball retired from use in 1997.
According to the newspaper, Robinson’s appearance in Macon was well-received by black baseball fans across the city but less so by white fans.
“The record crowd was made up of approximately 3,000 Negro fans, who overflowed all around the new home run fence,” the newspaper reported. “There were vacant seats in the grandstand and bleachers, where the white fans sat. The colored customers had plenty to yell about as their favorite, Jackie Robinson, colored second baseman for the Brooks, came through with three hits, one a blooper, to rank with Carl Furillo, Dodgers right fielder, as hitting star of the game.”
Interestingly, the box score that ran with the story omitted Robinson’s batting line, but it did list him as having a run batted in.
Minnie Singleton, who served as editor for what was known as the “colored page” that ran in The Telegraph during those years, interviewed Robinson and fellow Hall of Famer Roy Campanella at the Douglass Grill, along with legendary sportswriter Sam Lacy of The Afro-American newspaper in Baltimore. Lacy was one of many sports writers who lobbied baseball officials to integrate in the mid-1940s before Robinson was signed.
Campanella didn’t play in the game against Macon, but other Dodgers stars, including Furillo, Gil Hodges and Hall of Famer Duke Snider, did. Snider hit a home run during the game. Milt Stock, a former Peaches manager, served as a coach with the Dodgers.
Telegraph Sports Editor Sam Glassman, who covered the game, noted that Robinson was celebrated by only half of the record crowd.
“Jackie Robinson was booed by many of the white fans and applauded by members of his own race,” he wrote.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.