On the anniversary of their deaths, I’ve been thinking all day of Rosa Parks and Jackie Robinson. History has reduced both to Hallmark cards, but they were both extraordinarily complicated.
Parks of course, is typically portrayed as a matronly Black domestic who wearily refused to surrender her seat to a white bus passenger in 1956 Alabama. As Danielle McGure reminds us in her sensational book, At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape and Resistance, Parks was anything but a novice. By the time of the Montgomery Bus boycotts she’d been an activist for more than a decade, getting her start, in point of fact, investigating sexual violence against Black women as far back as 1944.
And then there’s Robinson, who of course gave Dodgers’ General Manager Branch Rickey his word that he would not respond to racial taunts on the field. But what I’ve learned only in recent years is that prohibition only applied to Robinson’s rookie year.
After that, all bets were off, and Robinson routinely called white rivals everything but a child-of-God on-the-field. His disdain for the famously racist Yankees manager, Casey Stengel, was such that not even the manager’s wife was immune from Robinson’s heckling.
The legend can never compare to the gorgeousness of reality.