Opportunistic politicians want to hide the truth Reggie Jackson just told, but they can’t | Opinion

Reggie Jackson did everything right, did everything Black people in this country are told we must. The New York Yankees legend built a life the envy of millions. But if he had to do it again, had to redo a life that led to his becoming one of America’s most celebrated sports superstars, he wouldn’t.

Jackson’s unexpected, gut-wrenching, honest recounting on national TV of a mythological life was a revelation. Given the ongoing attack on Black history, his words reveal the kind of truth that teachers and professors in South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida and more than two dozen other states now must think twice about before teaching.

Issac Bailey
Issac Bailey

Jackson recently joined a Fox sports broadcast as it aired a game from Rickwood Field in Alabama, where the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals played a Negro League tribute game.

“How emotional is it for you to come back to a place where you played with one of the greatest teams around?” former Major League Baseball All-Star and Fox baseball analyst Alex Rodriguez asked Jackson.

“I wouldn’t wish it on anybody,” Jackson said, seeming to surprise Rodriguez with his answer.

“Coming back here is not easy. The racism…when I played here... The difficulty of going through different places where we traveled,” the Hall of Fame baseball player continued. “People said to me… ‘You think you’re a better person, you think you won when you played here and conquered?’ I said, you know, I would never want to do it again. I walked into restaurants and they would point at me and say ‘(the n-word), you can’t eat here.’ I would go to a hotel and they would say ‘that (n-word) can’t stay here.’”

A white couple allowed Jackson to stay in their apartment three or four nights a week for more than a month and a half — until a white mob threatened to burn the entire complex down if he didn’t leave. The team visited a country club for a welcome home dinner. They were told “that (n-word)” can’t come in here.

Jackson said he wanted to retaliate by physically fighting. He knew that would make him a target of lynching during an era in which Black people were murdered in broad daylight in front of crowds that sometimes included dozens, hundreds or thousands of white onlookers, some of whom took home body parts as mementos. Sometimes, lynchings were advertised in the local newspaper.

Jackson noted that the white team manager and other white players stood up for him by repeatedly, declining to eat or sleep anywhere Jackson couldn’t. Still, you could see it in Jackson’s face — decades and unprecedented accomplishments later — the hurt and horror remain.

Racism cuts — even for the most celebrated Black Americans. The scars might fade or become more manageable over time, but they never leave.

It’s the kind of message we’ve been told shouldn’t be taught in our schools because it might cause white students discomfort, because these lessons are supposedly unpatriotic and an attack on this great country of ours. Some even say such messages shouldn’t be taught because they undermine the myth that hard work and success are all you need to overcome.

It might expose more of our children, half of whom are non-white, to the truth and complexities about this country’s often ugly history.

But just think about Jackson’s words, a man dubbed Mr. October because he was so clutch during the playoffs and World Series games, a man not shy in the least. His life demonstrates he didn’t have a “victim’s mentality.” His acknowledgment of the importance of white allies shows he isn’t speaking from a place of racial animus or vitriol or bitterness.

His age — five years younger than my very much alive mother-in-law — is a reminder that one of the ugliest chapters of American history is not ancient, but still with us. It’s not even history. It’s with us now, just a few days after Juneteenth.

Opportunistic politicians will never be able to hide that truth.

Issac Bailey is a McClatchy Opinion writer in North and South Carolina.