By Craig Harney - email
SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Cairo, Georgia was home to a Hall-of-Fame baseball player who changed America.
Jackie Robinson was the son of a sharecropper and the first African-American to play professional baseball and a chapter of his story takes place in Savannah at Grayson Stadium.
George Will writes that like many New Yorkers leaving home for work on April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson wore a suit, tie and camel hair overcoat as he headed for the subway.
To his wife he said, "Just in case you have trouble picking me out, I'll be wearing number 42."
With that, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in what was then indisputably America's game of baseball.
Four years later, Robinson came to Savannah's Grayson Stadium. Boo Hornstein was in the crowd.
"The day before the game, the tickets started selling and there were announcements that it looked like it was going to be a sellout," Hornstein described. "Fans spilled out not only into all the seats, the bleachers, the grandstands, the temporary bleachers, but along the baseline and all the way around the fence over to the right field line.
For Savannah, as for America, Robinson's appearance was transformative.
"As a matter of fact, someone hit a drive to the fence and Duke Snider, the famous Dodger center fielder, had to run to the fence and the spectators had to part like Moses and the Red Sea in order for him to back up to the fence to catch the ball," said Hornstein.
The city and the nation would begin to value contribution over color and skill over skin.
"His sports celebrity transcended sports and affected the entire world," said Hornstein.
Robinson's Brooklyn Dodgers beat the Philadelphia Phillies 5 to 3 at Grayson in that game.
Tuesday night, NPR's Scott Simon will present a lecture on his book, "Jackie Robinson And The Integration of Baseball" at the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum.
It starts at 6pm and is open to everyone.