Friday, November 14, 2008

Preacher Roe: On Jackie Robinson and Integration

Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, and Preacher Roe
Together in the Early 1950s
(Image from New York Times)

Yesterday, I included an update on Preacher Roe that showed where he stood on the integration of African-Americans in baseball and in American society.
Fast as you can say "Jackie Robinson," I got a link from Herschel to a statement that Preacher Roe made in 2003 when he was asked what he thought about playing on that Dodgers team with the first African-American in major league baseball, Jackie Robinson:
Well, I'm kind of proud of my career at that time. I feel like it was a change in the way of life. It was a step in our civilization, and I'm part of it. I'm really proud of it. I just felt if Jackie hit a home run while I was pitching, it counted just as much for me as if Pee Wee Reese hit it or some of the other guys that were white. It didn't matter to me. People asked me if Jackie could play baseball, and I'd say, "You never have seen a good ballplayer until you've seen him". He was that good. He was just outstanding. I can say I have no regrets about it, and I'm proud of my space in history right there.
I wonder what the Preacher thought this past election day. I reckon that he might have said, "We've come a long, long way."
Preacher Roe and his wife must have agreed on integration being "a step in our civilization," for here's a photo of his wife, Mozee, sitting to the right of Jackie Robinson's wife, Rachel, with Pee Wee Reese's wife, Dorothy, on the far left:

The photo is noteworthy, as explained on the Preacher Roe Official Website:
This photo shows the wives of Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, and Preacher Roe sitting together during a game. Though common place today, this is is an important picture taken during an era when Jackie Robinson was still dealing with racism from both the players and the fans.
Keep in mind that both Preacher Roe and his wife Mozee were from Arkansas, a Southern state, at a time when African-Americans were strictly segregated by law throughout the South. I would bet that the Preacher and Mozee received some criticism among Southerners for their public affirmation of integration in baseball . . . and in society.

I don't have any stories on this, however, but perhaps somebody does, and I imagine that they'd be interesting ones since Preacher Roe and his wife themselves must have undergone some changes in their views on racial relations over the years, for they were Southerners themselves, albeit from the Ozarks rather than the Deep South. Apparently, the Preacher had a flexible mind. The sportswriter Roger Kahn, in his book The Boys of Summer, had some praise for Preacher Roe as a thinker:
"When I went forth to cover the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1952, the most cerebral Brooklyn pitcher was a tall, skinny hillbilly named Elwin Charles 'Preacher' Roe."
The Preacher liked to play up his hillbilly persona, but he was a college-educated man who put off a career in baseball to finish his education. Perhaps his mind and education enabled him to see racial relations with more breadth, but I'm just guessing on that point.

In a later epilogue to his Boys of Summer baseball classic, Roger Kahn quotes the Preacher on his view of the afterlife:
"I know one of these days the good Lord is going to come calling," Preacher says, "and when that happens I certainly hope he sees fit to send me up to heaven. But heaven will really have to be something to be better than what we all had long ago in Brooklyn."
I guess that Preacher Roe has found out about that, for he was buried today. Rest in peace, Preacher.

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At 8:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is another story told locally about when Preacher signed a contract to pitch in professional baseball:
He was asked if he knew anyone else in the hill country who might be a good player.
He said there was a guy in Elizabeth, Arkansas that was a better pitcher than he was, who had a great fastball and curve.
They told him to bring him up and they would give him a chance.
Preacher went back and tried to get this guy to come. The man's mother cried and said, "Son, promise you won't leave your poor old mother." He told Preacher he promised his mother he would stay and take care of her.
This man had a local reputation as a phenomenal pitcher, but he started making, selling and drinking moonshine, and people started calling him "Shine Owens."
He pretty much drank himself senseless, and one day he was found lying beside a country road. He had drunk himself to death.
A sad story. Preacher always said that Shine Owens could have made it in the big leagues.

At 12:30 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

That is a sad story, Uncle Cran, and I've seen similar stories work themselves out in the lives of other folks, too.

Jeffery Hodges

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