As baseball honors Black history, Reggie Jackson recalls racist past

By Thomson Reuters Jun 20, 2024 | 8:05 PM

By Daniel Trotta

(Reuters) – (This story contains racial slur in paragraph 2 and language that some readers might find offensive in paragraph 7)

Baseball great Reggie Jackson offered fans a stark history lesson on Thursday, recalling the racism Black players faced in the segregated South of the 1960s, on a day the sport celebrated its African American history with a game in Birmingham, Alabama.

“I walked into restaurants and they would point at me and say, ‘The nigger can’t eat here.’ I would go to a hotel and they would say, ‘The nigger can’t stay here,” Jackson, 78, said on a live Fox Sports telecast ahead of a game between the San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals at Birmingham’s historic Rickwood Field.

“I wouldn’t wish it on anyone,” Jackson said.

Baseball was honoring Black players in a game one day after the Juneteenth holiday marking the end of slavery, and the game was played with the sport still mourning the death on Tuesday of Willie Mays, 93, who played for the Birmingham team in the Negro Leagues, which thrived before baseball was integrated in 1947.

Jackson, speaking on a panel that including recently retired greats Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz and Derek Jeter, said it was painful to return to Birmingham, where he played as a minor leaguer in 1967 before his Major League career with the Oakland A’s and New York Yankees.

Jackson, a Hall of Famer celebrated as “Mr. October” for his World Series dramatics with the Yankees, praised white teammates including Manager John McNamara, Rollie Fingers, Joe Rudi, Dave Duncan and Lee Meyers for refusing to let the team patronize segregated hotels and restaurants and for restraining him when he was ready to fight back against racists.

“I’d have got killed here because I’d have beat somebody’s ass, and you’d have saw me in an oak tree somewhere,” Jackson said, referring to the history of lynching in the South.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)