History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Saturday, April 4, 2015

As a legal/business matter, inclusion trumps everything

I had the pleasure of checking out the movie "42" from our public library a while back. It reminded me of the famous video "When It Was a Game." We are reminded of the times when major league baseball was whites-only. It wasn't just the players, it was everyone. And in the scheme of things, it wasn't that long ago.
I recently completed writing a song that includes a reference to Earl Battey. Earl played in the 1960s. He was the African-American catcher with the Minnesota Twins. The racial barricade had officially been pushed aside in the late '40s. But change like this does not happen suddenly.
American League teams were slower than in the National League to really accommodate players of color. African-American players like Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Bob Gibson became among the most exciting players in big league ball. They shared their excitement in the National League.
The American League came to lag in popularity. It's no coincidence that the American League gave us the designated hitter. The A.L. was groping to generate some more excitement.
Calvin Griffith, owner of the Twins, did not exactly exude a progressive image. But he was quite content opening the door wide for African-American and Cuban players. I know what you'll probably say: "Yeah, and that was because he figured they'd work cheap." Rimshot.
Whatever, we were treated to grand thrills here in Minnesota due to the likes of Earl Battey. He was catcher for the '65 team that won the pennant.
Discrimination lurked in the background even during the 1960s. In high school I wrote a paper that touched on this, and for my supporting data I turned to the book written by Jim Bouton: "Ball Four." Mr. Bouton even had numbers to illustrate his point. While a number of stars were African-American, there weren't nearly so many backup players of color. My teacher was skeptical of my use of "Ball Four" as a source. He made sort of a backhand comment: "I question some of your sources." It was obvious what he was referring to.
"Ball Four" was a totally avant garde type of journalism. It is a lens into a time when players really were treated as employees with very little rights or leverage. That began changing rather suddenly with the Curt Flood case. In the '60s, players had motivations other than money, to play. They played because, well, they had been outstanding players through their youth and it was simply a way of life. As athletic heroes they had always gotten recognition. Where else could they find that? Selling real estate? They played because of ego and the intangible of fame. Because they might find an especially attractive mate.
Players were notorious, of course, for getting divorced. You could say players were exploited back then. With time, sports card and memorabilia shows gave those players - the ones that made a decent mark with their play - a chance to "cash in." Denny McLain never had to engage in criminal activity. All he had to do was "be Denny McLain."
The video "When it Was a Game" includes a segment where an older man looks back. With sorrow he remembered the times when fans hardly noticed there were no blacks. He found it strange that he had no impulse to "object." It was a status quo we lived with, even though if we were to be pressed on the subject, we'd feel uncomfortable. People in the Deep South felt uncomfortable about slavery toward the end.
Inevitable forces at work
I have written before that the barriers of Jim Crow simply had to come down. We'd like to think it was all because of principle. Surely principle should have trumped everything else. How nice if that were the explanation. Could you imagine trying to keep baseball segregated into the 1950s? The race barrier along with Jim Crow simply had to come down. The legal community could no longer live with it. Increasingly our society did not follow the neat dichotomy of white/black or Negro/Caucasian. Increasingly we would be multi-racial and multi-ethnic.
I had a friend once who had a friend who lived in Tallahassee, Florida. The Tallahassee gentleman, a college professor, shared a story about an incident where a dark-skinned person went to use a tennis court that was whites-only. Someone called the police. It was learned that the dark-skinned person was from India. He wasn't African-American, was not descended from slaves. The story ends on a note that seems humorous. The police asked "where's your turban?" Of course it's not funny.
Today, major league baseball would love to get African-Americans back. African-Americans have largely deserted the sport. When I was young, many of the players I admired most, like Earl Battey, were African-American.
The song that I recently completed is about Tony Oliva. It's called "We Called Him Tony O." Herb Carneal was fond of referring to the spectacular Cuban star as "Tony O." Calvin Griffith had scouts who worked Cuba well.
Vic Power was another early Twin with black skin who was not "African-American." He was from Puerto Rico.
Jim Crow had to die because of the problem of defining who, legally speaking, was a black or colored person. The law demands consistency. Yes, even in the Deep South - grudgingly or haltingly.
A parallel movement at present 
Today we are seeing a new chapter in the history of beating back discrimination. The headlines now focus on the gay population. Many of the same forces are at work. Again, the legal community demands consistency. How do we define, for legal purposes, gay people? How do we really know someone is gay? If they say they are, we can be certain. But what about people who simply have close friends or roommates who are same-sex?
Fundamentalist Christians are clinging to the notion they can turn their backs on gay people, to refuse business. That's tough. What if you live in a town that has just one grocery store? What if the owner of that business decides not to allow you as a customer? Based on what? Based on a rumor out and about in the community that you're gay? That's not legally actionable. And if you can't shop at the store, how can you get enough to eat?
Joe Scarborough of MSNBC teased fellow panelist Mike Barnicle. What if Mike and Willie Geist (another panelist) held hands while walking into a convenience store? What if they just wanted to buy a Big Gulp? What if the owner of that business was some Bible-thumping Christian? Could there be a conflict? Is holding hands proof you're gay? Do you need to wear a turban to prove you're not African-American? You see, that's the kind of problem we run into, when these outdated principles are applied. These are the principles embedded in these "religious freedom" laws.
I attended church here in Morris for Good Friday and had to wonder as I was seated there: How many of these people would side with Governor Mike Pence in Indiana? Conventional wisdom in Morris has it that a whole new church got created in Morris because of the gay ordination controversy in the Lutheran church. Don't say these issues aren't being bandied about here. Don't think there aren't a number of "religious freedom" advocates in Morris MN. Yes, the freedom to discriminate and reject other human beings. It persists here just like racial exclusion was still a reality in major league baseball into the 1960s.
Vic Power had problems with his personality. He was rather a "character" with his personality. He could be thoughtful and humorous. Back then, many white people would refer to such blacks as "uppity." Oh, it still happens. Power noticed there could be a problem with getting served in restaurants. In response, he'd often just buy his food in grocery stores: things like bananas and summer sausage.
As a practical matter, discrimination against gays is simply not going to be enforceable. Business leaders all know that inclusion is good for business. Smart business owners will seek to do business with the gay population. Business interests can solve a lot of things.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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