Smith’s vision helped clear Jackie’s path to majors
Most executives denied any objections. The first respondent, executive John Heydler, went so far as to claim that baseball had never excluded anyone on the basis of race, creed or color.
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The Courier continued to grow rapidly, increasing its circulation from 46,000 to over 250,000 between 1933 and 1946. During that time, Smith was promoted twice, first to assistant sports editor in 1938 and then to sports editor in 1940.
On Feb. 7, 1942 the paper debuted its “Double V” campaign, which highlighted the hypocrisy of Black soldiers fighting in a war for freedoms that still remained inaccessible to them at home. They specifically tied the campaign to the integration of Major League Baseball, with Smith writing about how “Big league baseball is perpetuating the very things thousands of Americans are overseas fighting to end, namely, racial discrimination and segregation.”
“The goal is in sight,” Smith wrote that July. “The rest is up to you, Mr. and Mrs. Fan. In every town, village and hamlet, fans must organize clubs and join the fight. The first part of the battle has been won, but it will take concentrated, nationwide action to conquer the stubborn club owners of the majors.”
“I will appreciate it if you will let me know what decision, if any, has been made in regards to the three players – Jackie Robinson, Samuel Jethroe, and Marvin Williams.”
Smith recommended Robinson again shortly after the Boston tryout, this time to Brooklyn Dodgers President Branch Rickey. Rickey signed the then-Kansas City Monarch to a contract with the Montreal Royals, one of the Dodgers’ farm teams, on Oct. 23, 1945.
The following winter, when Robinson and his wife, Rachel, traveled to Florida for Spring Training, Smith joined them in Daytona Beach.
“I am most happy to feel that you are relying on my newspaper and me, personally, for cooperation in trying to accomplish this great move for practical Democracy in the most amiable and diplomatic manner possible,” Smith wrote to Rickey in a letter dated Jan. 14, 1946. He arranged for Robinson’s housing and travel that season, both in Florida and with the Royals, in large part to help navigate the segregationist policies for hotels and buses. Through the year, Smith continued to publish regular updates on what would be Robinson’s International League championship season.
“[Dodgers manager Clyde] Sukeforth was talking about the Yankees,” Robinson recalled in Smith’s column from April 19. “Then suddenly he looked over the bunch of players sitting in front of me and said – ‘Robinson, how are you feeling today?’ The question was popped so fast I was startled at first. When I finally answered, I said I felt fine. Sukeforth said: ‘Okay, then you’re playing first base for us today!’”
Robinson and Smith continued to work closely after Robinson made his debut. During that 1947 season, the Courier ran a column, “Jackie Robinson Says,” under Robinson’s bio but ghostwritten by Smith, and in 1948 the duo published “Jackie Robinson: My Own Story”.
They drifted apart as the years wore on, with Robinson rising to baseball superstardom and Smith moving to Chicago to write for the Chicago Herald-American and Chicago Sun-Times, and later transitioning to television as a sports anchor with WGN.
Isabelle Minasian is the digital content specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum