Sam Lacy: He Made a Difference Part XI


When we parted last, I shared an experience Pop had with a Southern, big hat-wearing sheriff. We were on our way to watch Althea Gibson—the Serena Williams of the time—when we were stopped for speeding. Pop had borrowed Dan Bankhead, the first Black pitcher in Major League Baseball’s car, and when he produced the registration, the cop cut him a break. The name Bankhead carried a lot of weight in the South at that time, and the cop probably thought Pop was a chauffeur.

A few seasons later, Pop was called upon to check out Althea at another tournament not too far away. This time he decided the bus was the best mode of transportation. We sat back and let the “Big Dog” do the driving.

While attending this tournament, I found myself in a conversation with one of the participants. He wasn’t scheduled to play that day, and was just watching the action. He introduced himself as Bernard Schwartz, and we meandered over to the hot dog stand, where he bought me a dog. We sat on the bleachers and watched the participants. At the end of the day, we had become pretty good friends, considering the age difference.

A couple of years later I saw him again. This time he was on the screen at my local movie theater, and his name was now Tony Curtis. When I lived in L.A., I bumped into him again. This was at least 15 years later, and it surprised me that he remembered me after a little reminder.

I was living the good life by sharing Pop’s experiences when I was allowed to travel with him. Jim Crow had softened a bit, but was still alive and well in the South, and I was called back to reality after Pop returned home from one trip. While attending a ball game, he was denied entry to the press box. Undaunted, he took a folding chair to the roof of the press box, so he could view the proceedings from there.

Hearing a commotion around him, he discovered that there were now quite a few reporters placing their folding chairs nearby for easy viewing. It was a heartwarming feeling to see that these guys were silently lending their support. I didn’t know about solidarity at the time, but as an adult when I hear the word, I remember the roof.

On another such occasion, he was given a section of reserved boxes on the first base line. He couldn’t help but think that segregation had its upside, because the color of his skin garnered him the best seat in the house.

He suffered another slap in the face back in his home base of Baltimore. He was attempting to enter Memorial Stadium by flashing his Baseball Writers Association of America credentials. But the gate official denied him access, and just as he turned away, Baltimore Sun Sports Editor John Steadman approached. Steadman presented his credentials and was admitted without a problem.

Before Steadman entered the stadium, he took issue with the gate official over his denying entry to Sam. According to Sam’s account of this incident, Steadman turned beet red, and read this poor guy the riot act. The problem was solved, and Sam noticed that at future games, that particular official had seemed to disappear. At any rate, he was no longer at the press gate.

More comes later….

Sam Lacy: He Made a Difference  Part XI

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