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April 20, 2011

Another reason for distrusting Dodgers nostalgia: desegregating baseball was easier than repairing Brooklyn's racial divide, to historian Wilder

Atlantic Yards Report

The Brooklyn Dodgers, and the desegregation of baseball via Jackie Robinson, loom large in Brooklyn history. Thus they have been and will be invoked by many Atlantic Yards boosters.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, straining mightily at the March 2010 groundbreaking, suggested that the sliver of the Nets owned by black celebrity millionaire Jay-Z was a milestone: "I'm glad I lived to see the color line in ownership broken in Brooklyn, where we've gone from Jackie to Jay-Z, where we can not only play the game but we can own a piece of the game."

(The color line in ownership had been broken earlier, and in full, in Charlotte.)

Not so simple

But maybe it's a little more complicated. In his 2001 book, A Covenant with Color: Race and Social Power in Brooklyn 1636-1990, historian Craig Steven Wilder writes:

It is a twisted irony that Brooklyn's politicians offered more vocal protests against segregated sports than they had against the construction of a black ghetto. By attacking Jim Crow in professional sports, local officials were able to grandstand as champions of racial equality without tackling the politically costly issues of employment and housing discrimination.

...Yet, the integration of its famous baseball team was a mild accomplishment when measured against Brooklyn's extraordinary social divisions.

Wilder seems less impressed that the Dodgers, in the words of Pete Hamill (as conveyed by brother Denis) not only integrated the team but integrated the stands.

Now, while Atlantic Yards is portrayed by proponents as narrowing some of those social divisions, the evidence is far more mixed--and the significant government aid and subsidies would, at best, trickle down rather than represent a public commitment to change.


Posted by eric at April 20, 2011 10:50 AM