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Racism Newsbeat

Thursday, September 14, 2023

The racist incident that shook baseball nine years before integration

On a midsummer day at Chicago’s Comiskey Park in 1938, a WGN Radio reporter asked an innocuous question to New York Yankees outfielder Jake Powell in a pregame interview: What did he do in the offseason?

The 30-year-old replied that he worked as a police officer in Dayton, Ohio, where he stayed in shape by cracking Black people over the head with his nightstick, using the n-word. WGN immediately terminated the interview and issued several apologies that night, but the outrage quickly spread beyond Chicago. Powell’s crude, racist comment led to a national backlash among African Americans that put the game on its back foot on race nearly a decade before baseball finally integrated.

The medium of radio helped escalate the controversy, said Chris Lamb, professor of journalism at IUPUI and author of “Conspiracy of Silence: Sportswriters and the Long Campaign to Desegregate Baseball.” The book includes a chapter on “L’Affaire Jake Powell,” as the episode was called at the time.

“If Powell had said it to a print reporter, it wouldn’t have had the same impact,” Lamb said in a telephone interview. “But so many people heard this, at home, on the radio, and it just shook the heavens.”

It turned out that Powell lied about having worked for the police. (He had merely applied for the job.) But his comment helped organize Black Americans in protest — at a time when they had little political power, a full generation before the civil rights movement. As The Post summed it up in a story published two days later: “Powell was cut off the air immediately upon the uncomplimentary sentence, with a vague notion of being funny. Five minutes later the large Negro population of Chicago was seething in indignation.”

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: September 14, 2023 at 10:14 AM | 24 comment(s)
  Beats: racism



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