Reggie Jackson recalls racism he experienced at Rickwood Field

Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama, made history by hosting its first MLB game on Thursday night, a poignant event that highlighted both its storied legacy and its complex past.

The matchup between the Giants and the Cardinals took place just days after the passing of baseball icon Willie Mays, who began his illustrious career in the Negro Leagues with the Birmingham Black Barons. Mays’ connection to Rickwood Field is just one thread in the rich tapestry of this 114-year-old ballpark.

Advertisement

Throughout its history, Rickwood Field has witnessed an array of baseball luminaries, including an astonishing 181 Hall of Famers who competed in various capacities there. Despite its absence from MLB, Rickwood Field predates even Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, underscoring its historical significance.

However, alongside its celebrated moments, Rickwood Field also holds darker chapters of American history. Despite being a haven for Black players during the segregation era, it was far from a safe haven. Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, speaking before Thursday’s game, recounted the racism he endured as a Black minor leaguer playing for the Birmingham A’s in 1967.

“Coming back here is not easy,” Jackson candidly shared, recalling incidents of discrimination at hotels and restaurants in Birmingham. Some establishments outright refused service to Jackson and his teammates, and the hostility extended to threats against their living quarters.

Reflecting on his experience, Jackson emphasized the pivotal role of his allies during those challenging times, singling out manager John McNamara and teammate Rollie Fingers for their unwavering support. “Had it not been for my white friends, I would have never made it,” Jackson admitted, highlighting the stark realities he faced as a young player of color.

Despite the adversity he encountered in Birmingham, Jackson persevered and went on to achieve greatness in Major League Baseball, ultimately earning a place in the Hall of Fame. His reflections serve as a reminder of the resilience required of athletes who confronted racial discrimination while pursuing their dreams.

As Rickwood Field continues to honor its past while evolving into a venue for MLB games, Jackson’s poignant remarks underscore the complex history and enduring significance of this historic ballpark in the heart of Birmingham.