While Jackie Robinson is justly famous for breaking the color line in major league baseball in 1947, other young African American players, among them Hank Aaron, continued to struggle for acceptance on southern farm teams well into the 1960s. As Bruce Adelson writes, their presence in the South Atlantic, Carolina, and other minor leagues represented not only a quest for individual athletic achievement; simply by hitting, fielding, and signing autographs alongside their white teammates, African-American ballplayers helped to end segregation in the Jim Crow South.
In writing this book, Adelson interviewed dozens of athletes, managers, and sportswriters who witnessed this important but largely unrecognized front in the ongoing civil rights movement. When nineteen-year-old Percy Miller took the field for the Danville (Virginia) Leafs in 1951, his presence on the roster was not the result of altruism: the team's white owners saw attendance flagging and recognized the need for more African-American fans. Two years later, Hank Aaron and his two black teammates for the Milwaukee Braves' Jacksonville (Florida) farm team were regularly greeted by racial invective, even bottles and stones, on the road. And Ed Charles endured nine years of discrimination in the southern minor leagues before breaking into the majors and finally winning the World Series with the Mets in 1969.
Slowly, through the vehicle of baseball, these African Americans shattered Jim Crow restrictions and met the backlash against Brown v. Board of Education while simultaneously challenging long-held perceptions of racial inadequacy by performing on the field. Brushing Back Jim Crow weaves their firsthand accounts into a narrative that spans the long season of racism in the United States, gripping fans of history and baseball as surely as a pennant or a home run—race.
The integration of the minor leagues is of great historical significance, not just for the history of baseball but for the history of race relations in the American South. Adelson knows these teams and their players, and he places his material, much of it new, in the context of other events taking place in the region, thereby capturing the dynamics and politics of the controversy. This is a valuable addition to the current literature not only for baseball fans but for anyone interested in American history.
Bruce Adelson is author, with Rod Beaton, of The Minor League Baseball Book and of four children's sports books. A past commentator for NPR, he has written about baseball for the Washington Post, USA Today's Baseball Weekly, Sport Magazine, and Baseball America.