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For more than 60 years, Sam Lacy wrote about racial injustice in the world of sports. A journalist with the Washington Tribune, Chicago Defender,and Baltimore Afro-Americanwho wrote his weekly column well into his late 90s, Lacy died May 8 of heart and kidney failure. The influence of the law on his journalism career is undeniable. Lacy made Washington, D.C., the front line of his 14-year campaign to integrate major league baseball. He ridiculed the hometown Senators’ owner, Clark Griffith, for not signing future Hall of Famers Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard of the Homestead Grays, a great black professional team that played at Griffith Stadium when the Senators were out of town. He recommended Jackie Robinson as the first black major leaguer in the 20th century, serving as one of Robinson’s roommates and confidants during Robinson’s initial seasons in the Brooklyn Dodger organization. Lacy did not have any legal training. His father was a notary and legal researcher, an exalted position for a black man in Washington, D.C., during the first few decades of the 20th century. Lacy dropped out of Howard University after a year. In an interview several years ago, he told me he did not want to be a doctor or a lawyer. Lacy’s lawyerly skills, however, made him a great journalist. Lacy understood the importance of a well-written letter. In late 1937, Lacy wrote to baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis asking to address major league owners about integration at their annual winter meetings. Instead, Landis told Griffith to speak to the young journalist. In December 1937, the Senators owner told Lacy that the “time was not far off” when blacks would play in the major leagues. Griffith did not integrate the Senators until September 1954, seven years after Robinson broke into the major leagues with the Dodgers and nearly six months after Brown v. Board of Education.But Griffith’s 1937 interview in the Washington Tribunegrabbed headlines and put Lacy at the forefront of the integration issue. Lacy wrote subsequent letters to the commissioner’s office that led to an audience with major league owners by black actor/athlete Paul Robeson. Robeson was Landis’ choice to speak in 1943; Lacy addressed the owners two years later. Lacy talked like a lawyer. Looking back on Griffith’s intransigence about integrating the Senators, Lacy refused to call Griffith a racist. Lacy insisted that Griffith merely “acted the part of a racist.” “[I]t’s hard for me to get into his mind,” Lacy told me. “You can’t say that a man is racist, you can say that he acted the part of a racist. There’s quite a difference.” Griffith had a mixed record on race. During the 1940s, Griffith regularly rented his ballpark to the Grays. In 1942 and 1943, the Grays earned Griffith as much as $100,000 per season. For Griffith, that money was the difference between finishing the season in the red or in the black. In an obvious attempt to protect his own financial interests, Griffith claimed that it was not right to break up the Negro Leagues by signing black players to major league rosters. Griffith segregated his ballpark during Senators games. But to his credit, he regularly made his ballpark available to the surrounding black community. And compared with the virulently racist owner of the Redskins, George Preston Marshall, Griffith was clearly the lesser of two evils in Washington. Lacy made strategic decisions like a lawyer. Before the 1945 season, upon hearing reports that Griffith had invited 35 Cuban players (but not a single American-born black) to spring training, Lacy began gauging support for a Griffith Stadium boycott. He proposed a July 4 mass protest known as “lily white baseball day.” Lacy’s publisher, however, talked him out of it. Later, several black journalists showed up unannounced at major league spring training camps with black players. They forced the teams to give the players tryouts. On April 6, Joe Bostic arrived at the Dodgers’ spring training camp in Bear Mountain, New York, with two Negro League veterans, pitcher Terris McDuffie and first baseman Dave “Showboat” Thomas. A week later, Wendell Smith pulled the same stunt at Fenway Park with a trio of younger prospects: outfielder Sam Jethroe, second baseman Marvin Williams, and a shortstop named Jackie Robinson. The players all received perfunctory tryouts, and never heard from these teams again. Lacy opposed “crashing the gates.” “You see, you have stay on an even keel, you have to think ahead,” he told me. “You never promote things that might not work out.” Lacy recognized that his most important asset with the major league owners was his credibility. Although Wendell Smith was hired by the Dodgers to serve as Robinson’s official roommate, Lacy played a prominent role in “baseball’s great experiment.” For Lacy, integrating major league baseball was personal. He grew up less than six blocks from Griffith Stadium in segregated Washington. He watched many Senators games from the Jim Crow pavilion in right field. He also had seen major leaguers up close. As a youngster, he would shag balls for the players on the Senators before games, run errands for them, and was rewarded with the best items to sell as a stadium vendor. The young stadium vendor eventually became Griffith’s biggest critic. A pretty fair curve ball pitcher, Lacy starred at all-black Armstrong High School and pitched for the semipro LeDroit Tigers against some of the finest black professional teams. He could detect no difference between the white players on the Senators and the black players in the Negro Leagues. In 1933, after several years as a full-time journalist, Lacy wrote his first column about integration, suggesting that major league owners should “give baseball a little ‘color.’ ” That column began his 14-year crusade. Lacy never considered himself an agent for social change. He simply wrote about a game he loved and had a strong sense of right and wrong. Lacy experienced racial discrimination firsthand while covering Robinson: sneaking into a Florida ballpark with Robinson through an outfield plank; watching a cross burning on the lawn of Robinson’s Macon, Ga., rooming house; covering the Little World Series in Louisville from the far right field corner reserved for “The Black Press”; and taking in a spring training game in New Orleans from the roof after being denied entry to the press box. During the early 1940s, racial discrimination extended beyond the baseball diamond into the nation’s newsrooms. Black journalists were shut out of white daily newspapers. Instead, they wrote for black weeklies that served as national newspapers for the black community. Papers such as the Afro-American, Pittsburgh Courier,and Chicago Defenderwere the best sources of information about black society, politics, entertainment, and sports. Although Lacy received offers from many white daily newspapers later in his career, he remained loyal to the Afro-Americanfor allowing him the unfettered ability to pursue the Robinson story. Lacy’s drive did not end with Robinson. He successfully fought for the integration of spring training facilities and hotel accommodations for black players. Lacy often stayed in the same second-class establishments as major league stars such as Willie Mays and Monte Irvin. With this type of access, Lacy got the inside scoop. Lacy was not a one-note journalist who wrote only about racial issues. He covered local baseball, football, basketball, several Olympics, and horse racing. His journalism career spanned from Jesse Owens to Cal Ripken Jr. He wrote his weekly “A to Z” sports column for the Afro-Americanfrom 1944 until just before his death. In 1997, he became the first sportswriter who had spent his entire career in the black press to be elected to the writers’ wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame. I interviewed Lacy on two occasions for my book, Beyond the Shadow of the Senators.He taught me how to respond to injustice, what it meant to be a responsible journalist, and how to conduct myself as a lawyer. I feel lucky to have known him. Brad Snyder, an associate at Williams & Connolly, is the author ofBeyond the Shadow of the Senators: The Untold Story of the Homestead Grays and the Integration of Baseball. More information about the book is available at www.beyondtheshadow.com.

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