On October 8, 1953, in Birmingham, Alabama, Police Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor announced that a planned All-Star baseball game organized by Jackie Robinson—almost a decade after he integrated Major League Baseball—would not be permitted to play in the city. Mr. Robinson, who previously toured the country with an all-Black team, signed notable white players Al Rosen, Ralph Branca, and Gil Hodges to join the interracial All-Stars. Ten days before the game was to take place, Commissioner Connor notified the public that the event would be banned if white players were going to play because “there is a city ordinance that forbids mixed athletic events.”
Bull Connor was a notorious segregationist with close ties to the Ku Klux Klan, and this was one of many actions he would take during his tenure to resist integration. In addition, Mr. Connor facilitated—and in some cases ordered—acts of violence against peaceful protestors. In 1961, he allowed a white mob armed with pipes to attack the Freedom Riders, Black and white college students who rode buses through the South to challenge illegal segregation in interstate transportation. In 1963, the entire world witnessed Mr. Connor’s brutality when Martin Luther King Jr. came to Birmingham to lead a children’s protest against racial segregation. Mr. Connor ordered the fire department to blast nonviolent protestors—most of them children—with high-pressure firehoses and commanded police to attack them with batons and police dogs. Mr. Connor never repudiated his defense of white supremacy or denounced his use of police violence.
Jackie Robinson devoted his life not only to baseball, but also to the fight for civil rights and equality for all. After being the first Black player to integrate major league baseball and leading the Brooklyn Dodgers to the World Series, he devoted himself to civil rights causes in his retirement.
After careful consideration and discussions with members of the Birmingham community, Mr. Robinson decided to move forward with the game, and bench the white players rather than cancel. This decision was partly made in response to fears that successfully shutting down the game entirely might help Mr. Connor win a bid for Birmingham mayor. The game did happen, with only Black players participating, and marked the intense resistance to racial integration that defined Alabama for generations.