In 1959, the Boston Red Sox became the last team in Major
League Baseball to break the color barrier when it brought up Pumpsie Green, a
switch-hitting infielder who was used primarily as a pinch runner. It took 12
years after Jackie Robinson’s debut for the team let a person of color don the
home team’s uniform at Fenway Park, a disgrace laid at the feet of team owner
In discussing the Southern-born Yawkey in a retrospective on
the Red Sox, a sports historian noted that people who discuss Yawkey and race
are always looking for a “smoking gun.”
People want to know where is the memo, or the document in
which he used the N-word, the man said. He then noted instead that Yawkey did
leave a document: his team on the field, which was a shameful reminder that the
Red Sox were destined to be all-white for as long as they could be.
From Robinson’s arrival in Brooklyn to Green’s arrival in
Boston, 10 of the 26 MVP awards in baseball went to players of color. The All-Star
Games from 1948-1959 became a cornucopia of race, with dozens of
Hall-of-Famers-to-be, ranging from Hank Aaron and Luis Aparicio to Jackie
Robinson and Frank Robinson. It would seem that had Yawkey felt the need to
integrate, there were more than a few candidates out there who could have
easily fit into the Red Sox system.
Four years after Green integrated the Red Sox, Vivian Malone
and James Hood integrated the University of Alabama.It took the federal
government sending in the National Guard to pry George Wallace out of the
schoolhouse door, but Malone and Hood were able to register that June day.
Unfortunately, not even the National Guard could break
through the white lace curtain of the university’s sorority system that exists
The student newspaper, the Crimson White, broke the story
this week that 50 years after the university itself integrated, the sororities
on campus remain almost entirely segregated. According to the article, in 2003
Carla Ferguson became the first black woman to pledge a traditional white
sorority through the formal recruitment process. She accepted a bid to one
sorority but remains the only black woman to actually enter this lily-white
The issue came to light after several sorority members came
forth to complain that a candidate who had a 4.3 GPA, was a salutatorian and
had a strong family tie to the university, didn’t make the cut for any of the
16 sororities on campus. The sorority members in some cases noted alumnae
pressure as a reason why this woman wasn’t offered a bid.
The newspaper story itself is a series of ridiculous “no
comment” statements from the officials associated with the various sororities.
One alumna noted that it was “policy procedure” and offered nothing else to the
pressing journalist. The adviser at one of the sororities who was said to have
forced the girls to drop the pledge said the group was “a private membership
organization” and that the selection process was confidential. Another
sorority’s president said it “does not share why or why not a member was
selected for membership.” Others declined to comment publically.
In short, “Good luck finding a smoking gun. We were very
careful not to call her a nigger in public.”
Yet, these organizations are a living, breathing document of
segregation. The university itself has a racial mix in which about 19 percent
of the student body is not white. The state itself is about 28 percent
non-white. In the 50 years since Hood and Malone sidled past Gov. George
Wallace and registered for classes, can these sororities honestly claim that
despite honest and forthright efforts, not a SINGLE quality candidate of color
could be found?
Each year, they draw in a collection of like-minded and
like-skinned candidates and replenish their ranks with more of the same. As the
organizations continue to get whiter and whiter, it’s likely that fewer and
fewer women of color will consider pledging. What’s the point? Why put yourself
through the aggravation?
It seems as though this is the point: If we can make it
something difficult to attain for people we don’t want to join, they’ll go away
and then we can say, “Hey, we just don’t get that many people from (fill in the
blank) who want to join our group. It’s not our fault.”
Unfortunately for these people, this woman was more than
qualified. She had the grades, the connections and the values the organizations
alleged to espouse. Her scores during the recruiting process were said to be
off the charts. Then, as someone noted in the CW story, her face was in the
slide show of potential members one minute and then gone the next, quietly
swept toward the back door without a second thought.
This year, like every other year, each of these 16
sororities will hang a composite on the wall of the sorority’s house. It will
feature the faces of the members who took on the mantel of sisterhood in that
institution. As is the case almost every year, all of the faces staring out
from those composites will be white.
These images do not serve as a smoking gun, but they are yet
one more damning document in a shameful history in which quiet rejection speaks
louder than anything.