Extra Chapter 4
The ten years that Jackie Robinson starred for the Dodgers opened a lot of eyes in a lot of different ways: to the existence of stifling racism in America, to the fact that White Supremacy was a myth created by those who designed such a system to make sure they would never have to prove themselves as worthy as blacks; to the fact that the men and women who were being discriminated against had a lot of offer this country.
Yet at the same time it was remarkable how little race relations had changed, even though Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, and Don Newcombe and other black teammates proved their worth by helping the Brooklyn Dodgers to win six pennants and a world championship. As late as 1957 – ten years after Robinson’s arrival in Brooklyn -- the Boston Red Sox had not signed a single black player, and the Jim Crow system in the South had not changed one bit, proving that hanging on to bigotry for many was more important than winning games or playing fair. Having kept their thumbs on the blacks for so long, the whites in America were deathly afraid that if they let go, the blacks might retaliate. They clung to the old system as though their very lives depended upon it.
It would take seven years after Robinson’s first appearance in a Dodger uniform for the Union States Supreme Court to rule that separate but equal schools was wrong.
For years after that, little integration would take place as Southerners sought to establish parochial or private schools to avoid having to race mix.
Across the country the student movement was totally silent throughout the 1940s and 1950s, until February of 1960 when six black students in Greensboro, North Carolina, sat down in a Woolworth store and demanded to be served a coca cola. They were denied service and then arrested, and within two weeks students – all white -- in Berkeley, California, were picketing their Woolworth store, saying, `Nobody shops at Woolworth until blacks in Greensboro can get a coca cola.
It was the first instance of non-violent civil disobedience, and then it would take one more year – 1961 -- for white and black Americans to dare challenge segregated seating on public transportation, even though the Supreme Court had ruled it illegal.
In the case of Browder v. Gayle in 1956, the Supreme Court had ruled that Jim Crow segregation was unconstitutional in interstate travel, but President John Kennedy and his Justice Department, fearing a white political backlash, had no stomach for enforcing it. In protest, blacks in Montgomery, Alabama, boycotted public transportation, but the leaders of the student rights group, the Congress of Racial Equality, decided that stronger measures were needed
Nineteen sixty one was the year of the Freedom Rides, as brave men and women from the north traveled South to test and protest the strict segregation laws. Eventually more than four hundred riders would board segregated buses and trains. The rides were marked by severe beatings and a firebombing of a bus in Anniston, Alabama.
The rides left their mark. In September of 1961 the Interstate Commerce Commission prohibited all discrimination in interstate busing.
One of the women Freedom Riders, Janet Braun-Reinitz, was a well-to-do suburbanite from Rye, New York. The daughter of a man who made his fortune in plastics a la the character played by Katherine Ross’s father in the movie The Graduate, Braun-Reinitz had a social awakening brought about when Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers. She was barely ten years old, but she was struck by a horrible thought that had never before occurred to her: Americans were being punished severely in this country because of the color of their skin. It was a realization that struck her like a baseball bat against a knee cap, and she empathized with the victims. She would bide her time until she could try to do something about it.
That moment came in 1961. Newly married, her husband, a social worker, had friends who worked for CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality. They were from Brooklyn, and they were deeply involved in direct action, protesting racist housing policies. One time they held a sit-in at the Silvercup bread plant because of its refusal to hire blacks.
At one of the CORE meetings Braun-Reinitz met Jim Peck, one of riders on the first bus to test the Jim Crow laws. It had been set on fire in Birmingham, its riders attacked. Peck, who had been beaten badly, talked about the Freedom Ride program and how whites and blacks riding together on buses all through the South was going to help end Jim Crow.
Braun-Reinitz thought to herself, I can do this. She naively asked one of the CORE members, “Do you think I’m experienced enough to be a freedom rider?”
It would turn out to be the trip of a lifetime.
Janet Braun-Reinitz: “My father’s family originally came from the part of Russia-Poland that kept changing hands. They were anxious to leave, because my grandmother walked on a several-year trip from their home across Poland and Germany to get a boat to the United States.
“My grandmother was very anxious that we be very American. Except during the war when letters stopped coming from the rest of the family, she never talked about why or how she came. But my uncle was born on that trip, and my father was born when they got here. My father was born on St. Mark’s Place in the village. They settled on the Lower East Side.
“My father was an upwardly mobile entrepreneur. He was working several jobs when his older brother, who was working for one of the watch companies, became involved with packaging. My father, who had an artistic bent, said to him, `Ah, here’s a business we can go into. You have the contacts, and I can figure out all the other steps.’
“It was right after the war. Packaging for jewelry had been made with cardboard and velvet, and during the war nobody could get the fabric, and he had the idea of plastics. He, my uncle, and another man who could run a factory opened a business in Middle Village, Queens, and they were enormously successful. So I was born into an upwardly mobile nouveau riche, let’s go to a bigger, fancier suburb society.
“We ended up in Rye on five acres overlooking Long Island Sound. My mother died when I was nine, and when I was twelve my father married a trophy wife. Several things happened. I discovered that money does not buy happiness and that there is more to the world than living in a pretty house. But the first real thing was Jackie Robinson.
“I can’t imagine that I had any ideas about race when I was growing up in the suburbs. Certainly not about segregation. The hoopla about Jackie Robinson, who was obviously wonderful and gorgeous and so talented really brought to the forefront the whole issue of who I was and who everyone else was.
“If you never knew that some people didn’t have the same privileges you did by race, then when you found that out, it was going to be a real shocker.
“When I was growing up, half my family were Dodger fans, and half were Giants fans, and I was actually a Giants fan. Someone has to be. The only games we went to were Dodger-Giants games. To this day I have gone to Yankee Stadium exactly once – to see Nelson Mandela. Baseball was a real topic we talked about in the family, something we all had in common. And Jackie Robinson was bigger than life. Marilyn Monroe should have been as big. Jackie was huge. Anything the Dodgers did was huge. They were not like any other team. There never will be that kind of fan base for any team like that ever again.
“Then a second thing happened: we had moved to the big house in Rye, and we had what was then called a ‘live-in’ maid. She lived in the city, had a family, but she lived at our house six days a week. I was going to Mamaroneck High School rather than Rye High School, and there were black kids and working class kids. The working class boys were the best, with the slick-back hair and the cigarettes in the white rolled-up tee shirts. I wasn’t one of the popular girls.
“I had a black friend from school, and I invited her to my house. It was a normal thing to do. `Come over.’
“She came over, walked in, and there was our black maid. My friend was uncomfortable that we had a servant. And I saw it. And there was nothing I could do about it. And it was heart-breaking. I lost my friend. She no longer wanted to be with me. And I would have done anything to make it right, but there was nothing I could do. I had no real vocabulary to talk about race. I was just dumbfounded.
“There were those two experiences, and also the understanding through watching my family that I was overprivileged and living in a cocoon. I understood these things younger than I probably should have. And because I didn’t get along with them, I went away to boarding school when I was fifteen. I went to the Walnut Hill School for Girls in Natick, Massachusetts. I wanted to go to Bennington, and I got in there, but my father refused to pay for me to go to such a `wild’ school, so I went to the Connecticut School for Women for three semesters, until I got booted out because I refused to go to compulsory chapel. All you had to do was walk into the chapel and sign your name, but I didn’t do it because I didn’t think it was right. I was Jewish, and I didn’t feel that I, or anyone else, should be forced to go to a Christian service. I was at a very young age when my mother died, and I decided afterwards that there was no God, but that was not the point about going to this service. Then a guy came into my dorm room through the window when I wasn’t there, and so my girl friend and I were suspended.
“My girl friend’s mother came to talk to the president of the college, but my father never bothered. When I went to see the president, a very distinguished woman, her toilet seat had been nailed down so no man could use it. I could see she wasn’t going to give me anything, so I went home and I got a job in Manhattan as the assistant manager of the complaint department at Gimbels. I was going to visit a guy at college weekend upstate, but my parents wouldn’t let me go. I was nineteen. I wrote them a note: “I don’t want to live here any more,’ and I packed my bag and left. And I never returned.
“I went to Manhattan, lived with a friend for a while until I could get enough money together to rent an apartment, and I enrolled at the Art Students League at night. That was the beginning of my adult life. It was 1957.
“The next year I went to my first demonstration. It was during the Rockefeller years, and we were all supposed to go into the subway or another bomb shelter when the siren rang, and I thought this was the most bizarre and ridiculous thing I had ever heard of. Because it didn’t make any sense to go to bomb shelters. If there was a nuclear disaster, we were all going to die anyway. It wasn’t going to matter. Like sitting under your desk at school or not carrying toothpaste on an airplane.
“And I went to this demonstration to protest against the nonsense they were putting us through. I was looking for a group to march with. There were all these people I didn’t know. I was very uncomfortable.
“We were at City Hall, and all these people were refusing to go into the bomb shelter. The march leaders said, `They will ask you three times. You will be arrested if you don’t move after the third time. So you should go in.’
“I had no notion of being arrested, no idea what that meant. And indeed, I was not going to get arrested. But I did find Dorothy Day, one of the great ladies of the world. She looked then like a saint. She was the head of the Catholic workers. She had taken a vow of poverty and fed the poor and had little houses – houses of hospitality -- all around New York for the homeless to get food and seek shelter. She was feeding five thousand people a day. She has been nominated by American Catholics for sainthood. She was really a glorious woman. I felt safe with Dorothy Day and the people around her. I felt I wasn’t going to get hurt, that no one in this group was going to do anything crazy. She was like a mother figure. Before the Black Panthers, there were the Catholic Workers. So I marched with them, and when the time came, I did go into the stairs of the subway.
“The next year I met the man who was to become my husband. He was Richard Reinitz, a Brooklyn boy who had been member of the Young People’s Socialist League. He was like the other sixteen year olds at Erasmus Hall. He didn’t do anything in particular but sit around and talk about socialism, argue about the difference between Trotskyites and Lenonists. That’s what they did in Brooklyn in the 1950s. They talked. It was basically theoretical.
“When I met him he was working for the welfare department as a case worker. A more miserable job there is not in the sense that it was impossible to really do the job. It was impossible because the clients never got enough money to live on. So Richard would tell me how he would give them a double furniture allowance, always finding some way to make it possible.
“The welfare department burned out people pretty fast, but he was much more politically aware than I was. My eyes were opened by that too. He had some friends who had joined CORE, and they were from Brooklyn, and we used to go to their houses one Saturday a month and play poker, and when they took me to a CORE meeting, they talked about direct action and how to use it – they sat in at the Silvercup bread factory to protest the fact they weren’t hiring blacks. The Black Muslims got involved with CORE, saying they would change their school’s bread company if Silvercup didn’t change, and that provided more leverage. It was kept very quiet that the Muslims were cooperating with CORE.
“They also initiated sit-ins to fight discriminatory housing practices. I sat in at a housing project in Brooklyn. They just let us sit. They closed off the air conditioning and the power and locked the bathrooms. We wound up putting heavy plastic bags in trash cans to use as toilets. It was very undignified, but a brilliant move.
“Then in one of those totally strange twists of fate, a young woman I was working with invited me to a party her parents were having on Park Avenue. It was in 1961, right after the burning of the Mothers’ Day bus, the first Freedom Ride. Jim Peck, who was on that bus, was there, and he was all bandaged up, and I met him, and I thought, My God, this is something I can do. I can actually do this. I can quit my job, and I can go.
“I went to the people at CORE, and in my naïve way I said, `Do you think I’m experienced enough to be a Freedom Rider?’
“They said, `Oh sure.’ I told my husband, and he wanted to go too, but we couldn’t quit both jobs.
“I flew to St. Louis, and we had a number of days of training from the people from CORE. We did role playing, being screamed at, and they told us how to get down and protect yourself. They told us all the things we would not be allowed to take with us such as nail files, ballpoint pens, anything that might be construed as a concealed weapon.
“We had a dress code. We had to look like responsible, middle class, non-threatening people. The girls all had to wear skirts and hose. I had very long beatnik hair, which I put up, and I couldn’t wear my big gold, bangly earrings. I had to look like a lady. And if we had gloves, that would be even better.
“We joined a couple of picket lines in East St. Louis, and then off we went. There were five of us: myself, Blyss Ann Malone, a black school teacher from St. Louis; Rev. Elton Cox, a black minister who had been on the Mothers’ Day bus; a white man named John, the son of a Methodist minister from Long Island; and a woman named Annie, who was only eighteen but whose job it was to not get arrested under any circumstances. She would be the liaison.
“We were on a regularly scheduled Greyhound bus. We were supposed to go to Little Rock, Arkansas; Pine Bluff; Texarcana, on the Louisiana-Texas border; Beaumont, Texas; back to Shreveport, Louisiana; then to Baton Rouge and finally New Orleans. We were not supposed to get arrested. We were supposed to go on this trip solely to gather information. We were to test the facilities, get served or get thrown out, and then report what happened to the Interstate Commerce Commission.
“As we rode into Little Rock, Cox said, `There’s something wrong.’
“I said, `How do you know there’s something wrong?’
“He said, `We’re in a black neighborhood, and everybody is sitting out on their porch. And it’s the middle of the afternoon on a weekday. Something is definitely up.’
“Everyone knew we were coming – I don’t know how, but they certainly did – so when we pulled into the Little Rock bus station, there were hundreds of people there. White people. White people angry.
“As we got off the bus, they were screaming and yelling at us. I thought, Somehow they know who we are. It turned out the bus route was printed in the paper that morning.
“I looked out the bus window, and I saw the `whites only’ sign for the first time, and I began to cry when I saw it. “We went into the white waiting room -- four of us, all but Annie -- and we sat down, and we were surrounded by these hateful people.
“Then the cops came. They gave us three warnings. `You will be under arrest if you don’t move.’ And we were arrested and taken to the brand-new Little Rock city jail, where we were each put in a tiny room with a chair and a little desk and a light that shone in your eyes. We were finally charged with breach of the peace and were taken to our cells.
“I was in the white woman’s cell which faced the office, so the cops could look into our cells. Bylss Anne’s cell was next to mine, and we could talk back and forth. She was by herself. I was with a group of loony tunes. There was a woman from Detroit who had kited checks. She was tough, but she was okay. There was a pregnant drug addict. I never knew what she had done, but she was in such awful distress. She was pregnant and in withdrawal.
“After I was there, the cops brought in this fat lady. She was in there for throwing her boy friend out of a moving car. She was fat and nasty, and she knew who I was. She said, `People like you shouldn’t be alive. You don’t know what you’re doing. What the hell are you doing in Little Rock? You should leave people alone.’
“She called me racist names, but I can’t bring myself to say them. Then she said to me, `They must be paying you.’
“I said, `They’re not paying me.’
“She said, `Yes, they are. That’s what you’re doing. Otherwise you’d never do it.’
“I finally said, `You can think what you want to think.’
“I was terrified.
“We had not been expected to be arrested, so we were not properly prepared. The jailers didn’t give you things like toothpaste and towels. I did have cigarettes however.
“The toilet was in the middle of the cell, and if you wanted to use it, the cops could see you. The shower faced the cops. They kept the lights on twenty-four hours a day, so you didn’t know what time it was unless you had a watch. Your internal clock was thrown off. We slept on double-decker metal slabs. We had a blanket and a little pillow. That was it.
“Everyone except me had a clergyman come and visit them. There were several rabbis in Little Rock, and I told my lawyer how terrible I felt that none of them came to see me.
“`I don’t understand,’ I said.
“He said, `You have to remember that you will be gone, and they will still be here.’ That opened my eyes to be more sensitive to the fact that anyone who helped us anywhere was putting themselves in jeopardy.
“The next day we were arraigned by the ever-wonderful Judge Glover. I will never forget him. He was a white-haired gentleman, probably in his late 50s, dressed in a beige suit, a white shirt, a white tie, and white bucks. This was city court, and he was the cartoon of the southern judge.
“Our lawyer had told us what was going to happen. The deal with CORE was that we would not post bail for thirty days. I assume this was for all the Freedom Riders.
“We were arraigned. We were not charged with being at the wrong place at the wrong time because they didn’t want to challenge that law. We were charged with breaching the peace by creating a situation that caused this crowd to gather.
“We pleaded no contest to disturbing the peace, even though a few weeks earlier Marilyn Monroe had come to Little Rock, and she had caused a huge crowd to gather, ten times the number of people who had been at the bus station, and she had not been arrested.
“On a personal note, we were the lead story on the Huntley-Brinkley report. My husband’s father loved me dearly, but he was someone who didn’t like blacks, didn’t like Catholics – everyone was against the Jews – it changed my father-in-law. He did a three-sixty. He just changed his attitude. He was so proud of me. Though he was a lovely man in many ways, I would not have predicted that. In fact, he worked for the city in a clerical capacity, and his union gave him an award because I was his daughter-in-law. Isn’t that wonderful?
“My husband did manage to send me a telegram while I was in jail. He wrote, `I hope non-violence works. I love you.’
“Judge Glover sentenced us to six months at the county farm, suspended on the condition that we leave the state of Arkansas immediately.
“We had been in jail over the weekend, and we got out, and the five of us and our lawyer went off to have a wonderful party in the black community and to get some decent food.
“Then it turned out that Judge Glover didn’t have the authority to give us that sentence. He was a city judge, and he couldn’t force us to leave the state, only the city. While we were having lunch, someone in the judicial system discovered his error, and they put out an ABP on us and they called our lawyer and told him, `You have to bring them back.’
“We went back to jail. This time we went with toothbrushes, and we weren’t dressed up. To hell with it. The next day we went back to court, and we were given the same sentence, but we were told we had to leave the city of Little Rock with all due speed.
“So we got on the Greyhound bus going to Pine Bluffs, and then on to Texarcana. By now our faces and our movements were well known.
“When we stopped in Pine Bluffs, there was a crowd, and they started to rock the bus and throw rocks at the bus, and again I was terrified. You feel like you have no control. None. I had lost my understanding of the process of what was going on, and you didn’t know what might come next. Could these people roll over the bus? Was the window going to get broken? Would the people who wanted to get off, these innocent people, blame us or try to hurt us? It was not knowing.
“When we had gone into the waiting room at Little Rock, we had felt we knew exactly what we were doing. We had thought we knew the consequences. We hadn’t intended to make a fuss. We were there to collect information.
“At Pine Bluff the people who wanted to get off got off, and no one else wanted to get on. The driver quickly turned the bus around and got out of there, and we headed for Texarcana.
“We got off the bus there, and for the first time we saw the FBI, and they were very identifiable. They wore felt fedora hats in the middle of the summer. Cox, who had a great sense of humor, pointed them out. He said, `Now remember, they are not here to protect you. Don’t even go there.’ He knew that J. Edgar Hoover and his men were against what we were doing. I don’t think anyone during this time thought J. Edgar Hoover, or anyone else, was going to protect us, even though it was the Kennedy Administration. Oh please. Bobby Kennedy was no help whatsoever, believe me. Or to put it less emotionally, I am of the school who believes that Bobby Kennedy didn’t give a hoot. Okay?
“There wasn’t a crowd, though there were curiosity seekers in Texarcana. We went to the waiting room, and we were refused service. We made a note of it and got back onto the bus – this is what we were supposed to have done all along.
“We were scheduled to go to Beaumont, but Cox decided that other Freedom Riders were coming to the state of Texas coming from California, and we were so visible we should move right on to Shreveport. A more miserable place there is not. Shreveport was then one of the big centers of the Klan.
“We drove into the parking lot, and I could see a crowd gathering and snipers on the tops of all the buildings. I don’t know whether they were city or state policemen, but the cops were much worse than civilians. By then I never wanted to see a policeman again. In Little Rock they had been awful, sitting up in that office and watching us take a shower and pee. And when they fingerprinted me, they did it by the fingernails so you were as uncomfortable as possible.
“In Shreveport the bus pulled into a wide parking lot, and so it was a long walk to the bus station. This crowd was armed with rotten tomatoes and raw eggs. Cox said, `We’re not even going to try to go into the station now.’
“We were met by a local organizer, Dave Dennis, who was all of eighteen. He had two cars waiting for us, and as the crowd in its frenzy threw things at us, he bundled us off. It was the afternoon, and we were taken to someone’s house, and the question was, `What are we going to do in this truly hostile environment?’ `Was it safe to stay in Shreveport?’ `Could we possibly test the facilities?’
“We had a meeting of civil rights people and clergy. The decision was made not to cause a confrontation. We were not there for that. We still considered our mission to get the information. There was a two o’clock in the morning bus, and we decided we’d go on that bus, that we’d test the facilities at two in the morning and keep it a secret. I can remember feeling that we were sneaking out of town. And that’s exactly what we did.
“I don’t even remember what we did at the Shreveport bus station. I remember only that the black ministers came with us. I don’t think we tried to do anything.
“At nine the next morning we arrived in Baton Rouge. I wanted a cup of coffee badly. Baton Rouge had a very nice bus station with a restaurant, and the four of us – two blacks and two whites -- went into the white restaurant, and we sat down to have breakfast, and the waitress very politely refused to serve us. We made note of it and got back on the bus. Then we went on to our final stop, New Orleans.
“We walked into the New Orleans bus station. We went up to the lunch counter, and the four of us were served. And then the black community threw a huge party for us. I have always had a very warm spot in my heart for New Orleans.
“We got on the bus, and I came back home, and I was jobless. I got a job that summer working for the New York Chapter of CORE on Park Row in Manhattan. James Farmer had a big desk and his own office. I had a little desk. I organized. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was talking to all kinds of people. I had no notion knew these people were with some notable exceptions. I had to go deliver something to A.Phillip Randolph’s office in Harlem. I went up there dressed in my usual beatnik clothes. A big Irish cop stopped me. It was four o’clock in the afternoon, and he said to me, `Where do you think you’re going?’
“I said, `I beg your pardon?’
“What he was saying was, You don’t belong up here in Harlem, and you should get out immediately.
“I said, `I’m going to see A. Phillip Randolph,’ which of course meant nothing to him. I remember feeling, I’m in the wrong place at the wrong time, and I’m not in Shreveport. I’m in Harlem. And give me a break.”