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Divine Guidance
Board of Alderman
September 15, 2008
Allan Brison (G-10)

NOTE: every Board Of Aldermen meeting starts with one of the Alders leading the board in something inspirational, otherwise known as Divine Guidance. Since there are 30 alders and only 22 BOA meetings per year, the opportunity doesn't come up very often, less than once per year.
This was what I did when it was my turn.

Thank you. Please be seated.

Many of us can look to special defining events or moments in our childhood that have had a profound, inspirational, effect on the rest of our lives.

For me that event occurred when I was nine years old.

It was baseball's opening day in Ebetts Field, Brooklyn, NY, April 15th, 1947. That was the day that Dodger first-baseman, Jackie Robinson, became the first black player in the history of Major League baseball.

I was an avid fan of my beloved Brooklyn Dodgers. Jackie quickly became my hero. I learned all about the tremendous obstacles that he faced in those early years:

-how he had to withstand the constant verbal abuse from the opposing dugouts where he was called every known racial slur in the books, and many creative new ones as well,

-how he was thrown at on a daily basis by the opposing pitchers,

-how in St. Louis and even some northern cities, he had to be housed and fed segregated from the rest of the Brooklyn team,

-how many players threatened to strike against his playing, including several of his own teammates. These threats, some very serious, were only put down by vigorous and prompt actions of National League president Ford Frick, Dodger manager Leo Durocher, and Branch Rickey, the visionary General Manager of the Brooklyn team.

As a white kid in a northern all-white town, I had little concept of racial problems in the US. Two years after Robinson broke the color barrier, however, I spent the summer with my parents and brother in the Jim Crow South.

The obvious poverty and the humiliating restrictions on black people were a shock.

I played baseball down there in Maplewood, Louisiana. One day when my ball playing chums and I were huddled in a shed sitting out a rainstorm, the conversation turned to Jackie. Only they didn't refer to him by name, only by racial slurs. The consensus was that he was the worse player ever to set foot in Major League baseball.

In fact, of course, he was one of the best, leading the league in virtually every batting category at the time. I was much too shy and intimidated to challenge my friends in this.

That night, however, I related the story to my family; and my brother who was 15, very popular in the local teen scene, and not at all shy, said he had heard the same crap from his friends, but he had called them on it, told them they were full of s-h-i-t, that Robinson was one of the very best players in baseball, and their inability to see this showed that they were suffering from a huge case of sour grapes.

I was so proud of my brother. And he wasn't even a Dodger fan.

A few years later, in 1961, I returned to the South, this time as a 3rd year student at Rice University in Houston Texas - the largest segregated city in the country. There were no black students at Rice University.

A handful of us Rice students joined the fledgling Civil Rights movement centered at Texas Southern U, the black school in Houston, and I got a taste of justice southern style.

One night, for example, in the white section of the Houston City Jail, I and my other white comrades were paraded up and down in front of the other detainees while the jail guard, in marine drill sergeant style, hurled invectives at us, degrading us with the worst insult that one southern white person could bestow on another; a term that I won't repeat, but which means one who loves black folks.

He then locked us up, each of us in a cell with 3 of the detainees that he had just tried to incite to violence. To say I was scared would be an understatement.

We were lucky that night. None of our respective cellmates seemed to care what we had or had not just done. But a few nights later one of the others had 2 teeth knocked out in a similar situation.

Jackie succeeded against what must have been among the most enormous obstacles any Big League player has ever had to face. He did it with dignity and grace. He went on to be elected into Baseball's Hall of Fame.

The Jackie Robinson story has stayed with me and continued to inspire me throughout my entire life.