David Bruce: Prejudice Stories

Even early in his career, while still in minor-league baseball, African-American Hank Aaron won a lot of games with his bat. However, as all players do, he occasionally messed up, and whether he messed up or not, he often got abuse from racist fans—and sometimes from racist teammates. One game, he booted a ball, a mishap that lost a game for his team. The pitcher for his team said after the game, “You know, you can’t trust a n*gger. When pull comes to tug, they’re going to go in the tank every time.” Jim Andrews, a white player on the team and Hank’s friend, grabbed a bat and hit a locker, then he said, “We got enough aggravation outside. We don’t need it here. I’m just going to say this once and only once: If I ever hear that word in here again, this bat’s going to go across somebody’s skull. I don’t care much what happens to me. It doesn’t happen in here again.” And it never happened again.

Georgia O’Keefe ran into prejudice by creating serious art at a time when many Americans did not think that women could create serious art. At the Art Institute of Chicago, seeing live models shocked her, and at the Art Students League in New York, a male student told her that she ought to be his live model. After all, he said, he was going to be a serious artist and she would end up teaching art to females. Another student painted over her art because she had not painted trees in the Impressionist style. Actually, Ms. O’Keefe did not care how the Impressionists painted trees—she was too busy creating her own style—a style that would make her a world-famous artist.

African-American jazz musician Branford Marsalis has faced racism. As a student in Boston, he and two white friends went into an all-white and very tough neighborhood in South Boston. Some white teenagers with baseball bats saw Branford and didn’t like his color, so they attacked him and his friends. Branford got away and ran for help to a gas station. A really big white man with a chain came to the rescue. He told Branford, “They’re [messing] with you ’cause you’re black, aren’t they? I hate that.” Then the man and his son rescued Branford’s friends. Branford, noting the white man’s help, says, “I can’t really indict the whole neighborhood.”

Barbara Jordan was the first African-American woman in the Texas Senate, where she became famous for her oratory. According to author and syndicated columnist Molly Ivins, people used to bring their racist friends to the Texas Senate when Ms. Jordan was scheduled to talk. The racist friend would be shocked and ask, “Who is that n*gger?” And then the racist friend would be even more shocked as oratory worthy of Abraham Lincoln poured from Ms. Jordan’s lips. For example, she once orated, “My faith in the Con-sti-tu-tion is whole; it is com-plete; it is to-tal.”

When Muhammad Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, won a gold medal at the Olympic Games in Rome in 1960, he wore it all the time, even sleeping with it. (He started sleeping on his back so that the medal wouldn’t cut his chest.) However, even with Olympic gold, he still faced prejudice. In Louisville, Kentucky, he and an African-American friend went to a restaurant. There, they were refused service because of their race, even though Mr. Clay showed the owner of the restaurant his gold medal.

The highly qualified eye specialist Dr. Max Mandelstamm was considered for a professorship at the University of Kiev, but he was rejected solely because he was a Jew. Therefore, he sent the university this letter by messenger: “I respectfully recommend the bearer of this letter to the Chair of Ophthalmology at the university. He is not an eye specialist, but he answers to your requirements. He is a Christian, and he has for years been my dependable furnace-tender.”

In 1942, music researcher Alan Lomax became very aware of prejudice in the South. Mr. Lomax, in a conversation with another white man who happened to be the Sheriff of Tunica County, referred to African-American blues musician Man House as “Mister.” The sheriff was not amused. A little later, Mr. Lomax, who was now suspected of being an “outside agitator,” was informed that it would be a very good idea for him to leave Tunica County. He did.

When poet Nikki Giovanni was young, much segregation existed in the United States. She eagerly awaited the coming of the Disney movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarves to Knoxville, Tennessee, but she was disappointed when it arrived first at the whites-only movie theater. She and other children with her skin color had to wait for it to come to the blacks-only theater before they could see it.

As an African-American, Ralph Bunche suffered from prejudice while living in Washington D.C. For example, when the family pet died, the Bunche family went to a pet cemetery, but they were told that the pets of African-Americans had to be buried separately from the pets of white Americans. In 1950, Mr. Bunche became the first African-American to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

After the United States Supreme Court ruled that segregation of the Montgomery, Alabama, buses was illegal, not everyone was happy with the decision. A group of Ku Klux Klansmen rode through a black neighborhood, but instead of cowering inside their houses, the blacks came out on their porches and waved to the Klansmen. The Klansmen quickly left the black neighborhood.

African-American author James Baldwin was a victim of prejudice as he was growing up in New York City. When he was 13, he crossed the street to get to a public library on 42nd Street. A white police officer saw him and told him, “Why don’t you n*ggers stay uptown where you belong?”

Pittsburgh Pirate (and Baseball Hall of Famer) Roberto Clemente sometimes felt that he was being discriminated against in southern cities. When that happened, he would tell the clerk his identity, watch as the prejudice turned into awe and compliments, then leave.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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