December 24, 2009

Lester Rodney: 1911 -2009

American journalist Lester Rodney passed away last Sunday at the age of 98.

Dave Zirin, Edge of Sports:
He crusaded against baseball's color line when almost every other journalist pretended it didn't exist. He edited a political sports page that engaged his audience in how to fight for a more just sports world. His writing, which could describe the beauty of a well-turned double play in one sentence and blast injustice in the next, is still bracing and ahead of its time. He should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Instead he was largely erased from the books.

If you have never heard of Lester Rodney, there is a very simple reason why: the newspaper he worked at from 1936-1958 was the Daily Worker, the party press of the U.S. Communist Party. Lester used his paper to launch the first campaign to end the color line in Major League Baseball. ...

[Lester recalled Jackie Robinson as] "a continuing militant, and that's why the Dodgers never considered this brilliant baseball man as a manager or coach. It's because he was outspoken and unafraid. That's the kind of person he was. In fact, the first time he was asked to play at an old-timers' game at Yankee Stadium, he said 'I must sorrowfully refuse until I see more progress being made off the playing field on the coaching lines and in the managerial departments.' He made people uncomfortable. ...
Sadly, but not surprisingly, that crucial aspect of Robinson's character has been erased from all modern mainstream recollections.

You can read the forward and some of the first chapter of Irwin Silber's book about Rodney -- Press Box Red -- here.

Also: a 2003 Village Voice interview and his New York Times obit.


L-girl said...

Thanks for this. It's great to learn about this writer.

johngoldfine said...

It's interesting that the CPUSA was so adamant for so long about racial equality when liberals were, sadly, "realistic" and temporized, rationalized, compromised, philosophized, took the lonnnnnnnng view, etc.

Now of course, what was a central defining element of American communism--what J. Edgar Hoover might have called 'race-mixing'--is mainstream, respectable conventional wisdom, and asserting the contrary nearly unthinkable in polite society.

But I think we are where we are in spite of communist support, not because of it.

What's particularly interesting in the post is Jackie Robinson's hard line--that is something that does seem to have been lost in the hurry to use him as an easy symbol of America's disavowal of racism.

L-girl said...

But I think we are where we are in spite of communist support, not because of it.

Absolutely. They were just way ahead of the curve.