I am always amazed how people who are the most oppressed by the American system are some of its most ardent believers and supporters and those who stand to benefit the most from America seem to be casually dismissive about what is America. While this might be an ugly thing to say, oppression can bring out the best in people. It causes them to fight, to exert themselves in order to outdo in every way their opponents. I think that’s what propelled Jackie Robinson to pen this essay in the early ’50s. I was impressed with the hope, enthusiasm even patriotism he seemed to hold for a Jim Country country which sought to deny him every opportunity he chose to explore. It was this spirit of hope, excellence and patriotism which seemed to mark the essence of African-Americans who fought white supremacy. See if you can feel it in Robinson’s words.
At the beginning of the World Series of 1947, I experienced a completely new emotion, when the National Anthem was played. This time, I thought, it is being played for me, as much as for anyone else. This is organized major league baseball, and I am standing here with all the others; and everything that takes place includes me.
About a year later, I went to Atlanta, Georgia, to play in an exhibition game. On the field, for the first time in Atlanta, there were Negroes and whites. Other Negroes, besides me. And I thought: What I have always believed has come to be.
And what is it that I have always believed? First, that imperfections are human. But that wherever human beings were given room to breathe and time to think, those imperfections would disappear, no matter how slowly. I do not believe that we have found or even approached perfection. That is not necessarily in the scheme of human events. Handicaps, stumbling blocks, prejudices — all of these are imperfect. Yet, they have to be reckoned with because they are in the scheme of human events.
Whatever obstacles I found made me fight all the harder. But it would have been impossible for me to fight at all, except that I was sustained by the personal and deep-rooted belief that my fight had a chance. It had a chance because it took place in a free society. Not once was I forced to face and fight an immovable object. Not once was the situation so cast-iron rigid that I had no chance at all. Free minds and human hearts were at work all around me; and so there was the probability of improvement. I look at my children now, and know that I must still prepare them to meet obstacles and prejudices.
But I can tell them, too, that they will never face some of these prejudices because other people have gone before them. And to myself I can say that, because progress is unalterable, many of today’s dogmas will have vanished by the time they grow into adults. I can say to my children: There is a chance for you. No guarantee, but a chance.
And this chance has come to be, because there is nothing static with free people. There is no Middle Ages logic so strong that it can stop the human tide from flowing forward. I do not believe that every person, in every walk of life, can succeed in spite of any handicap. That would be perfection. But I do believe — and with every fiber in me — that what I was able to attain came to be because we put behind us (no matter how slowly) the dogmas of the past: to discover the truth of today; and perhaps find the greatness of tomorrow.
I believe in the human race. I believe in the warm heart. I believe in man’s integrity. I believe in the goodness of a free society. And I believe that the society can remain good only as long as we are willing to fight for it — and to fight against whatever imperfections may exist.
My fight was against the barriers that kept Negroes out of baseball. This was the area where I found imperfection, and where I was best able to fight. And I fought because I knew it was not doomed to be a losing fight. It couldn’t be a losing fight-not when it took place in a free society.
And in the largest sense, I believe that what I did was done for me — that it was my faith in God that sustained me in my fight. And that what was done for me must and will be done for others.