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Professor’s Perspective: the Red Sox and the History of Racial Inequality

Although Beacon Press is not strictly speaking an "academic publisher," Beacon's books are frequently used in college and high school classrooms around the country. Today we share the perspective of one professor about why she chose Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston as a text for her students. Amy Bass, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of History at the College of New Rochelle and is the author of Not the Triumph but the Struggle: the 1968 Olympic Games and the Making of the Black Athlete (University of Minnesota Press, 2002) and In the Game: Race, Identity, and Sports in the 20th Century (MacMillan, 2005).

Cover of Shut Out by Howard Bryant So here's my problem teaching cultural history: I am a devout and devoted, dedicated and dutiful, fan of the Boston Red Sox.

There are many, many, many well known burdens in being a fan of Boston. Until recently, there was the whole "curse" thing. The year 1918, which could be mentioned for many historically important reasons (the flu epidemic, Exterminator's unlikely win at the Kentucky Derby, the creation of Wilson's Fourteen Points, etc.), haunted Boston fans until 2004. I was one of them. I endured.

But perhaps the greatest burden is when I come to the story of Jackie Robinson on my syllabus. It's a topic I address not just when I'm teaching my upper-division seminar entitled "Race, Sport, and Society." I also talk about Robinson at length in my U.S. history survey, "Reconstruction to Present," using his minor and major league debuts, and Branch Rickey's push to make the Dodgers the team that would transform baseball's color line, to describe what was going on in early postwar America to spur on the major civil rights movements that emerge in the 1950s and 1960s. It's not sports history, I tell students; it's history.

But then comes that question. That terrible, terrible question. That question that is part of my burden: which team was the last to integrate?

And here's where Howard Bryant and his wonderful Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston come in.

I used to answer that while the Red Sox were technically the last team to integrate, they had tried to integrate first by getting Robinson board, along with Marvin Williams and Sam Jethroe, as early as 1945. But then I read Bryant's tremendously readable book, and I realized that the word tried was really the wrong one. Bryant's startling telling of the tryout shut down my defense of Boston, and only heightened my understanding of why it wasn't until 1959 that the Red Sox became the last – yes the absolute last – team to integrate, bringing up Elijah "Pumpsie" Green in 1959. By the time Green came on board, Robinson was retired, a fact that makes the "Curse of the Bambino" seem like a story used, as so many are in American history, to overshadow the very real and devastating effects of racism.

Howard Bryant's book isn't just about baseball. And it isn't just about sports. It's about history – American history – and should be read by anyone interested in it.

If you are a professor and are interested in learning more about Beacon Press titles, visit the "For Educators" links on the Beacon Press website. If you have used a Beacon title in your course, Beacon Broadside would like to hear your story, either in the comments stream below or in an email to the editor.