Caddycorner from Brooklyn Borough Hall is an unremarkable white stone building, 215 Montague Street. It has had various incarnations as a bank over the last few decades: CrossLand Savings, then EAB, now TD Bank. But from 1938 until 1957, it was home to the Brooklyn Dodgers’ business offices.
It was at 215 Montague Street, on August 28, 1945, that Jackie Robinson signed his Dodgers contract, starting the process of integrating Major League Baseball that culminated with his major league debut on April 15, 1947. A plaque went up in 1998 to commemorate the history that happened at a building that otherwise would be notable mainly for the time-and-temperature sign that each of the banks has maintained through the years.
You can get a glimpse of that time-and-temperature sign, and in fact all of 215 Montague Street, in a video posted by City & State NY reporter Zach Williams on Wednesday night of police charging at and attacking peaceful protestors. According to Ali Watkins of The New York Times, the protestors never had a chance to disperse, as they were pinned on either side by police.
On the other side of the country, UCLA’s Jackie Robinson Stadium was converted from a COVID-19 testing site to a “field jail” to detain protestors. The university announced that this was done without permission, releasing a statement titled “A Violation of Our Values.”
“To be clear: This was a violation,” reads the statement, signed by UCLA chancellor Gene Block and three other top university officials. “To see a space that’s so special to UCLA, particularly one dedicated to an iconic figure like Robinson, used as a place for punishing those who carry on his legacy is profoundly upsetting.”
What might Robinson himself think of all this? Well, on Tuesday, author and Grand Valley State University professor Louis Moore posted a couple of headlines of columns that Robinson wrote. One, which Moore attached to the UCLA story, was, “Watch That Cop Brutality.” The follow-up, paired with a photo of military police blocking the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, was, “Murder, Hate and Violence Will Be Weapons of ‘New’ Republicans.”
At the same time that physical locations celebrating Robinson’s legacy are the site of police abuses, Major League Baseball is learning that addressing racism in the sport means more than just slapping a “42” patch on some shirts. There’s also Drew Brees, who on Thursday issued a not-nearly-good-enough apology for completely missing the point of everything as he circled back to Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem.
“I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country,” Brees told Yahoo Finance’s Dan Roberts.
That would also be Robinson, who detailed his feelings in his autobiography, I Never Had It Made, in 1972:
“It should have been a glorious moment for me as the stirring words of the national anthem poured from the stands. Perhaps, it was, but then again, perhaps, the anthem could be called the theme song for a drama called The Noble Experiment. Today, as I look back on that opening game of my first World Series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama and that I was only a principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.”
The plaque at 215 Montague Street reads, “WHERE THE DODGERS MADE BASEBALL HISTORY AND JACKIE ROBINSON CHANGED AMERICA.” As true as those words are, there’s still a lot more change that needs to happen, and even though Robinson has been dead since 1972, you can still find him in the middle of it.