I had another post on the schedule for this morning, but when I came upon this on The Jon S. Randall Peace Page, I re-scheduled the other one and chose this for this morning’s post. I think when you read it, you’ll see why.
He remembered growing up when his father pointed out a tree to him, and told him that a black man was lynched from a branch of that tree. At that time, he could not understand how another human being could hate another human being, to the point of killing him.
Harold Henry was born on July 23, 1918 in Ekron, Kentucky. When he was 8-years-old, his family moved to racially segregated Louisville. He was 10-years-old when his father took him to see that tree in which the black man was lynched.
Harold never got to know any black folks growing up. He said, “the schools were segregated, so we didn’t go to school with them.” He also added that he never got to play with them “because they weren’t allowed in the parks.”
While playing amateur baseball in a church league, Harold was noticed and would later play for the minor league Louisville Colonels, where his teammates called him “The Little Colonel”.
Harold eventually made it to the Big League, then enlisted in the United States Navy in 1943. While serving in the Navy, a shipmate told him that a black man was signed to his baseball team and that he might be taking his job.
Rather than becoming angry, Harold supposedly told his shipmate “well, if he can beat me out, more power to him.”
When he finally got back to the states, he finally met his black teammate and shook his hand. He admitted it was the first time he ever shook the hand of a black man.
And, when a petition was passed around in spring training by some players saying they would refuse to play with a black man, Harold refused to sign it.
Then, came the moment that has become immortalized.
During one game, as usual his black teammate was being heckled because he was black. His teammate seemed so alone on the field as seemingly the entire stadium was booing, jeering at him for no other reason than the color of his skin. None of his other teammates went to the black player’s defense.
The black player had received death threats and if he dared talk back to anyone, the hate would intensify even more. Even the other players taunted him.
Harold could not not stand it any longer. He didn’t care what the other players would think of him, he didn’t care what the rest of the stadium would do, he didn’t care how his own hometown would react to him or his family.
So, on that day, on that field, in that stadium of hate, Harold did the most amazing thing. He didn’t hit a major home run, he didn’t perform acrobatics catching a ball, and he didn’t pitch a no-hitter. What he did would be remembered for all eternity, in baseball history and American history.
Harold Henry (or as his teammates called him by that time, “Pee Wee”) Reese simply walked over to his teammate, Jackie Robinson, and put his arm around him, leaving his arm there for all to see, chatting with him innocently about who knows what – but, it silenced everyone in the stadium. The boos and racial slurs suddenly stopped, the crowd no longer knowing what to think, how to act. Pee Wee Reese was one of the most respected players in the league, and he just showed everyone why.
One writer noted, people have a choice, they can either choose to hate, or they can choose to love their fellow man. Reese had no reason to hate Jackie Robinson. It was a grand gesture of support, friendship, and respect for his fellow man.
Jackie Robinson would say that Reese was teased a lot because of his friendship with Robinson.
“(Opposing players) were abusing Reese very viciously because he was playing on the team with me … They were calling him some very vile names and every one bounced off Pee Wee and hit me like a machine-gun bullet. Pee Wee kind of sensed the sort of hopeless, dead feeling in me and came over and stood beside me for a while. He didn’t say a word but he looked over at the chaps who were yelling at me and just stared. He was standing by me, I can tell you that. Slowly the jibes died down … and then there was nothing but quiet from them. It was wonderful the way this little guy did it.”
Robinson would add, “I will never forget it.”
Another major league baseball black pioneer, Joe Black, would say, “When Pee Wee reached out to Jackie, all of us in the Negro League smiled and said it was the first time that a white guy had accepted us. When I finally got up to Brooklyn, I went to Pee Wee and said, ‘Black people love you. When you touched Jackie, you touched all of us.'”
After the two men retired, in 1972, an elder Robinson attended a playoff game in which he would be honored. By that time, Robinson’s eyesight was failing and he felt uncomfortable, alone, on that field once again. But, all of a sudden, he heard a familiar voice from across the field. Robinson immediately turned around and yelled out Reese’s name. Reese was there to support his friend once again. Robinson and Reese would embrace once again.Reese, who was a quiet, humble man who never seeked publicity, admitted years later that he took his son to the same tree his father took him, to show him what hate could do. In 2005, after both men had passed away, Reese’s son would be present at the unveiling of a monument honoring that moment in baseball history between Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson.
“My father had done his own soul searching,” said Mark Reese, Pee Wee’s son, in the New York Times, “and he knew that some fans, teammates, and yes, some family members didn’t want him to play with a black man.”
“But,” Mark Reese added, “my father listened to his heart, and not to the chorus.”
In the New York Times, Marty Markowitz, the Brooklyn borough president, said, “When Pee Wee Reese threw his arm around Jackie Robinson’s shoulder in this legendary gesture of support and friendship, they showed America and the world that racial discrimination is unacceptable and un-American.”
Reese himself in 1997 said, “Something in my gut reacted at the moment. Something about what? The unfairness of it? The injustice of it? I don’t know.”
Reece would later say, “I was just trying to make the world a little bit better. That’s what you’re supposed to do with your life, isn’t it?”