The movie "42" captures Jackie Robinson's courageous and tumultuous rise from the negro leagues to the minors and, eventually, the Brooklyn Dodgers. The painful slurs and on-the-field attacks Robinson endured brings the viewer face-to-face with pre-civil rights America. For just a few moments, a new generation gets to feel the bigotry and resulting pain, see the whites only toilets, and experience being turned away from hotels because of the color of their skin.
The movie captures the worst and the best of Jackie's journey to baseball immortality as the first black to break baseball's color barrier. As Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig observed, "Jackie Robinson running onto Ebbets Field is not only the most important and powerful moment in Baseball history, but it also changed the course of American history."
Branch Rickey, the General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, was partially motivated by profit, Jackie Robinson wasn't a perfect saint, and America isn't cured of all of its racism. But the America of today is not the America of 1947, partly due to these two men and the courage they had to change baseball.
In a nearly all-white suburban audience in Agoura Hills, CA, people repeatedly interrupted the movie to applaud Jackie's painful progress. In one pivotal scene, facing rabid hatred and on-the-field slurs from a competing manager, Jackie Robinson retreated to the player tunnel where he yelled out in frustration and repeatedly slammed his bat against the wall.
A comforting Branch Rickey confessed that he had never known such abuse, but he stated the uncomfortable truth, "You're the one living the sermon. You're the one who has to survive 40 days in the wilderness." He challenged him to be the hero so many needed.
The sustained, standing applause at the end of the film gave viewers a chance to affirm progress. For those living through the civil rights era, we want to believe that we're closer to being the country that Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about where the content of a man's character is more important than the color of one's skin.
But this movie reminds us that it was not long ago that, in some areas, racism was an accepted part of our national culture. Living in pre-civil-rights Atlanta from 1953 to 1958, I remember the separate drinking fountains, the "open-air" schools for black students, and their minor league baseball team--The "Atlanta Crackers." In watching "42," you're reminded that America has come a long way!
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