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Jackie Robinson and Junkyard Dog show liberty brings people together

Those looking for a good movie to commemorate Black History Month should check out 42, the 2013 "biopic" about Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play major league baseball.  Jackie Robinson's story is also a good illustration of how, as Campaign for Liberty Chairman Ron Paul likes to say, liberty and free-markets bring people together.

Branch Rickey, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, used his position as the owner of successful businesses to end racial segregation in America, and, by increasing the audience for his product, profit by it.  Jonathan Bean, writing in USA Today, elaborates:

Rickey's story begins in 1903 when, as a 22-year-old head coach, he took his Ohio Wesleyan University baseball team to South Bend, Ind., to play Notre Dame. When the team arrived at the old Oliver Hotel to check in, the hotel manager reportedly told Rickey, "I have rooms for all of you except for him" -- pointing to catcher Charles Thomas, who was black.

Why don't you have a room for him?" Rickey asked.

"Because our policy is whites only," the manager replied.

After some back-and-forth, the hotel manager agreed to let Thomas stay there: in Rickey's room.

Rickey sent his players to their rooms. When he got to his room, Thomas was sitting on a chair sobbing, pulling at his hands.

"He looked at me and said, 'It's my skin. If I could just tear it off, I'd be like everybody else. It's my skin, it's my skin, Mr. Rickey!"'

Thomas later became a successful dentist. He never forgot his coach and Rickey never forgot that experience.

Despite this early trauma, Rickey never saw politics as a cure for racial hatred and discrimination. In fact, with Jim Crow laws still in place throughout the South -- and more subtle forms of discrimination institutionalized in many northern cities -- politics was part of the problem, not the solution.

The solution, Rickey believed, had two components: the heart and the wallet, religion and free enterprise.

After a long run as general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, whose home city was largely still segregated, Rickey left for New York, where he became part owner of the Dodgers. As an owner he had the power to do as he pleased. And what he pleased was to right the wrong that had been inflicted on Charles Thomas and so many other talented blacks over the years.

Read the rest here.

If liberty brings people together, then government separates people.  Jennifer Roback's (now Jennifer Roback Morse) 1986 article The Political Economy of Segregation: The Case of Segregated Streetcars (Journal of Economic History 56, no. 4 (December 1986): 893–917) examined one notable case of how the government drives people apart:

The resistance of southern streetcar companies to ordinances requiring them to segregate black passengers vividly illustrates how the market motivates businesses to avoid unfair discrimination. Before the segregation laws were enacted, most streetcar companies voluntarily segregated tobacco users, not black people. Nonsmokers of either race were free to ride where they wished, but smokers were relegated to the rear of the car or to the outside platform. The revenue gains from pleased nonsmokers apparently outweighed any losses from disgruntled smokers.

Streetcar companies refused, however, to discriminate against black people because separate cars would have reduced their profits. They resisted even after the passage of turn-of-the-century laws requiring the segregation of black people. One railroad manager complained that racial discrimination increased costs because it required the company to “haul around a good deal of empty space that is assigned to the colored people and not available to both races.” Racial discrimination also upset some paying customers. Black customers boycotted the streetcar lines and formed competing hack (horsedrawn carriage) companies, and many white customers refused to move to the white section.

In Augusta, Savannah, Atlanta, Mobile, and Jacksonville, streetcar companies responded by refusing to enforce segregation laws for as long as fifteen years after their passage. The Memphis Street Railway “contested bitterly,” and the Houston Electric Railway petitioned the Houston City Council for repeal. A black attorney leading a court battle against the laws provided an ironic measure of the strength of the streetcar companies’ resistance by publicly denying that his group “was in cahoots with the railroad lines in Jacksonville.” As pressure from the government grew, however, the cost of defiance began to outweigh the market penalty on profits. One by one, the streetcar companies succumbed, and the United States stumbled further into the infamous morass of racial segregation.

Read the whole article here.

Jack Hunter at RARE Liberty uncovers another example of how the career of professional wrestling legend Junkyard Dog provides another example of how free-markets undermined racial segregation and racism:

In 1978, Southern wrestling promoter Bill Watts noticed that when he put black wrestlers in the ring, more black fans would show up to matches. He also noticed that when he put an African-American in the “good guy” role, it was something black fans were eager to see.

When a racist business partner complained about this, Watts’ fellow promoter Grizzly Smith said, “Their money’s green, and it’s the most green thing we’ve seen in a long time.”

Watts wanted more green. So why not make a black man his top star?

The Junkyard Dog (Sylvester Ritter) became a household name in Louisiana and eventually, the main attraction for Watts’ entire Mid-South promotion (Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi). His character was inspired by the Jim Croce song, “Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown” (“badder than old King Kong, meaner than a junkyard dog”).

The Junkyard Dog was more than just a wrestler. White fans adored him, but perhaps more significantly, he became a folk hero for black children in Louisiana.

New Orleans has long had one of the largest majority black populations in the country. Antigravity Magazine noted in 2012:

In the 1981-82 academic year, the New Orleans school system asked students which local sports star they’d most like to meet. It was the heyday of Archie Manning’s reign as the Saints’ quarterback. Basketball legend “Pistol” Pete Maravich had just retired from a hall-of-fame career centered on a still-unbroken division scoring record at LSU and five years leading the New Orleans Jazz.

Both these giants received many votes, but New Orleans’ schoolkids overwhelmingly wanted to meet the Junkyard Dog.

Ritter’s biographer Greg Klein explains the cultural and political backdrop of that era in his book, “The King of New Orleans: How the Junkyard Dog Became Professional Wrestling’s First Black Superhero:”

New Orleans, the state of Louisiana, and the rest of the territory were still feeling the backlash of the civil rights era. New Orleans, in particular, had become a troubled city in the ‘70s. Crime was rampant. The police response was to crackdown overwhelmingly on the black community, causing resentment and anger. More than 60 percent of the city’s population was black, but the police and the politicians were almost all white.

Civil rights-style protests and rallies sprang up. In 1977, the city elected its first black mayor, Ernest “Dutch” Morial. New Orleans was ripe for a black wrestler to be its top star; as for the rest of the territory, that question was still open.

In 1987, the Junkyard Dog was one of the top wrestling stars in the world, appearing at WrestleMania III with Hulk Hogan in front of nearly 100,000 people.

It was not his most significant achievement.

In 1978, Southern wrestling promoter Bill Watts noticed that when he put black wrestlers in the ring, more black fans would show up to matches. He also noticed that when he put an African-American in the “good guy” role, it was something black fans were eager to see.

When a racist business partner complained about this, Watts’ fellow promoter Grizzly Smith said, “Their money’s green, and it’s the most green thing we’ve seen in a long time.”

Watts wanted more green. So why not make a black man his top star?

The Junkyard Dog (Sylvester Ritter) became a household name in Louisiana and eventually, the main attraction for Watts’ entire Mid-South promotion (Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi). His character was inspired by the Jim Croce song, “Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown” (“badder than old King Kong, meaner than a junkyard dog”).

The Junkyard Dog was more than just a wrestler. White fans adored him, but perhaps more significantly, he became a folk hero for black children in Louisiana.

New Orleans has long had one of the largest majority black populations in the country. Antigravity Magazine noted in 2012:

In the 1981-82 academic year, the New Orleans school system asked students which local sports star they’d most like to meet. It was the heyday of Archie Manning’s reign as the Saints’ quarterback. Basketball legend “Pistol” Pete Maravich had just retired from a hall-of-fame career centered on a still-unbroken division scoring record at LSU and five years leading the New Orleans Jazz.

Both these giants received many votes, but New Orleans’ schoolkids overwhelmingly wanted to meet the Junkyard Dog.

Ritter’s biographer Greg Klein explains the cultural and political backdrop of that era in his book, “The King of New Orleans: How the Junkyard Dog Became Professional Wrestling’s First Black Superhero:”

New Orleans, the state of Louisiana, and the rest of the territory were still feeling the backlash of the civil rights era. New Orleans, in particular, had become a troubled city in the ‘70s. Crime was rampant. The police response was to crackdown overwhelmingly on the black community, causing resentment and anger. More than 60 percent of the city’s population was black, but the police and the politicians were almost all white.

Civil rights-style protests and rallies sprang up. In 1977, the city elected its first black mayor, Ernest “Dutch” Morial. New Orleans was ripe for a black wrestler to be its top star; as for the rest of the territory, that question was still open.

It wasn't an open question for long. The Junkyard Dog’s larger-than-life persona had endeared him to so many fans, black and white, that by the mid-80’s the WWF would come calling. Wrestling columnist Mike Mooneyham observed, “JYD hooked up with the WWF in the mid-’80s and joined Hulk Hogan as one of the few elite performers during that time to pull down six-figure salaries, second only to Hogan as the company’s top babyface.”Former WWE wrestling announcer Jim Ross, who also worked for Watts during the 80s, said of the Junkyard Dog, “He was the first man of color to headline a territory, so successfully, and it took a lot of courage for him to carry that banner, I think he broke a lot of racial barriers.”

Read the whole story here.


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