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Rickwood game: Reggie Jackson, on live TV, recalls his experiences with racism in Alabama

Joseph Dycus, Bay Area News Group on

Published in Baseball

Thursday’s game between the Giants and Cardinals at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Ala., was billed as a celebration of the Negro Leagues. And it was. But on live TV, the painful memories of racism in the Jim Crow South were on display, too.

Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson did not hold back during Fox’s pregame show as he described the bigotry he experienced in Birmingham as a minor league player in the A’s organization.

“I would never want to do it again,” Jackson said somberly as he recalled the abuse he experienced in 1967, including threats to burn down the apartment complex where he was staying on teammate Joe Rudi’s couch. Jackson was 21 at the time and just two years removed from the Arizona State campus.

“Coming back here is not easy,” Jackson, 78, said during the live interview. “The racism when I played here, the difficulty of going through different places where we traveled, fortunately I had a manager and players on the team that helped me get through it. But I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.”

Jackson, who is Black, played for the Birmingham A’s in 1967 as a 21-year-old. The minor league team was the Double-A affiliate of the Kansas City Athletics at the time.

Thirteen years after Brown v. Board of Education formally outlawed segregation in schools, Alabama still adhered to Jim Crow laws and attitudes during Jackson’s time in the city.

“I would walk into restaurants and they’d point at me and say “The (n-word) can’t eat here,” Jackson said. “I would go to a hotel and he’d say ‘The (n-word) can’t stay here.’

“We went to (owner) Charlie Finley’s country club for a welcome home dinner and they pointed me out with the n-word, ‘He can’t come in here.’

 

“Finley marched the whole team out and finally they let me in there. He said we’ll go to the diner and eat hamburgers or go where we’re wanted. Fortunately I had a manager in Johnny McNamara, that if I couldn’t eat in the place, nobody would eat and we’d get food to travel. If I couldn’t stay in a hotel, they’d drive to the next hotel and find a place where I could stay.”

Jackson recalled a time when he, along with his white teammate Rudi and Rudi’s wife Sharon were threatened after it became known that the young player was rooming with them.

“I’d slept on their couch four nights a week for about a month and a half,” Jackson said. “Finally they were threatened that they’d burn the apartment complex down unless I got out. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”

This was not the first time Jackson described the racism he experienced in one of Alabama’s biggest cities. A year after the Kansas City A’s selected him No. 2 overall in the 1966 major league draft, Jackson was assigned to the A’s Double-A affiliate.

“I begged not to go to Birmingham, Alabama … I’m not going there.,” Jackson said while discussing his early days with the A’s during an ESPN Films documentary about the Yankees-Dodgers rivalry. “I couldn’t eat with the team there. I couldn’t sleep in the hotel. I couldn’t live there.

“But at least in the South you knew they didn’t like you, they didn’t want you,” Jackson said. “You know, I was angry. I was an angry dude. Being of color in that era … it was a different world. It’s something that you don’t really care to express to a lot of people about.”


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