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Baseball great Reggie Jackson opens up on TV about racism he faced as a player

BRONX, NY - 1968: Reggie Jackson of the Oakland Athletics poses an action portrait at Yankee Stadium in Bronx, New York in 1968. (Photo by Louis Requena /MLB via Getty Images)
(Photo by Louis Requena /MLB via Getty Images)
BRONX, NY - 1968: Reggie Jackson of the Oakland Athletics poses an action portrait at Yankee Stadium in Bronx, New York in 1968. (Photo by Louis Requena /MLB via Getty Images)

Baseball legend and Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson returned to Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Ala., this week and recounted the horrors of racial abuse he was forced to endure there during his time in the leagues.

Jackson, 78, was just 21 years old when he joined the Birmingham A's as one of a few Black players on the minor league team and at the height of violent racial strife in the American South.

“Fortunately, I had a manager and I had players on the team that helped me get through it, but I wouldn't wish it on anybody,” Jackson said on the Fox Sports panel for the Negro Leagues tribute game on Thursday.

When Jackson arrived in Alabama in the 1960s, the city of Birmingham was making headlines for its open abuse of Black Americans.

Led by Bull Connor, the notorious city commissioner of Birmingham, racial tensions were at a fever pitch, marking a peak with the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, which claimed the lives of four young Black girls.

“I walked into restaurants and they would point at me and say 'the n***** can't eat here.' I would go to a hotel and they said, 'the n***** can't stay here,' ” Jackson said.

“We went to 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,” Jackson recalled, referencing the Alabama native and Major League Baseball franchisee Charles Finley.

Jackson credited having white friends and allies on his side to stick up for him and keep him from doing anything that might have jeopardized his career or his life in the deeply segregated era.

“I would have never made it. I was too physically violent. I was ready to physically fight – I'd have got killed here,” he said.

Jackson, who earned the nickname “Mr. October” for his ability to overperform in the postseason, would eventually play for 21 seasons in the majors, taking home five World Series wins.

He retired after the 1987 season and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Alana Wise
Alana Wise covers race and identity for NPR's National Desk.