Monday, March 14, 2016

Ahead of its Time

While all cities are rooted in their history, few can take as much pride in their past as Rochester.  In Rochester, Frederick Douglass found an environment suitable to publishing his abolitionist newspaper The North Star, and his life inspired the country's first monument to an African American.  His friend, Susan B. Anthony, used Rochester as her home base in her fight to earn women the right to vote.  This culture of forward thinking has defined the region, and it has manifested itself in a wide variety of arenas.  A perfect example can be found in Rochester's sports history.

Two of the most important blows to the color barrier in sports have prompted major motion pictures:

  • Jackie Robinson's historic 1947 debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers of Major League Baseball was captured in the 2013 film 42.
  • Don Haskins, whose Texas Western team comprised of five black starters beat all-white Kentucky in the 1966 NCAA men's basketball championship, had his story retold in the 2006 drama Glory Road
In keeping with Rochester's humility, its own contributions to breaking the color barrier in sports are generally little known and uncommonly discussed.  Yet here are the facts:
  • In 1946, the Rochester Royals of the National Basketball League, which would later merge with the Basketball Association of America to form the National Basketball Association (NBA), became one of the first teams to sign an African-American player, William "Dolly" King.
  • In 1950, Earl Lloyd of the Washington Capitols became the first African American to play in the NBA.  That uneventful event took place in...Rochester.  As Leo Roth wrote in the Democrat & Chronicle, Rochester may have been the perfect place for this integration to occur because:
  1. By the standards of the time, it was already integrated
  2. It had previously been through this process four years earlier, and
  3. In Lloyd's hilarious own words, it was too cold for the Ku Klux Klan.

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