Thursday, 6 March 2014

Jackie Robinson Autobiography (and degrees of separation).

My good friend Fred Emrich offered to take me to a spring training baseball game between the New York Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates at the McKechnie Field in nearby Bradenton FL.

I did not accept Fred's offer, not so much because my priestly career in Massachusetts turned me into a "Yankees hater" (I knew which side my bread was buttered), but mostly because I believe that organized sports are about as enjoyable as is the preparation for a colonoscopy.

Fred was nice about this, but he encouraged me to think that sport might well be a window on the wider world, and he suggested that I should read Jackie Robinson's Autobiography. (American and Canadian readers will be well aware of  Jackie Robinson, and I suspect that my readers in other lands will have heard about him).

I finished "Jackie Robinson -  I never had it made" (Putnam 1972 and The Ecco Press 1995) today.

It was a worthwhile read  (thanks Fred).

The book made me understand Robinson as much more than the safe  "one-dimensional figure" of popular culture, i.e. the first Negro to play in American Major League Baseball and not much more.

Robinson  was multi-dimensional. He was:

A loving and devoted son, son-in-law, husband, and father.

A man who was wise enough to learn from his wife Rachel.

A post-baseball successful business man ("Chock full o Nuts" Coffee; and  Freedom National Bank in Harlem).

An independent political thinker (friend and critic of people  as disparate in their politics as Richard Nixon, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King, Nelson Rockefeller, and  Malcolm X,  to name a few.).

A courageous newspaper columnist.

A baseball Hall of Famer.

A tireless and successful advocate and fund raiser for the NAACP.

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Degrees of separation?

As I read the book I came upon a passge on page 129. There  Robinson writes  "We had gone to Detroit to speak at a $100 dollar-a-plate   (NAACP) dinner spearheaded by a socially prominent and wealthy black physician, Dr. Alf Thomas, the head of the Detroit organization" 

The name "Dr. Alf Thomas"  got me thinking.   After a bit of research, my thoughts bore fruit.

I discovered that Dr. Alf Thomas was indeed the Uncle of my next door neighbour Edythe Thomas.

(I confirmed this with Judge Eddie  Thomas of Detroit who is  Edythe's brother).

Well I never!


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