In 1959, the Boston Red Sox became the last team in Major League Baseball to break the color barrier when it brought up Pumpsie Green, a switch-hitting infielder who was used primarily as a pinch runner. It took 12 years after Jackie Robinson’s debut for the team let a person of color don the home team’s uniform at Fenway Park, a disgrace laid at the feet of team owner Tom Yawkey.
In discussing the Southern-born Yawkey in a retrospective on the Red Sox, a sports historian noted that people who discuss Yawkey and race are always looking for a “smoking gun.”
People want to know where is the memo, or the document in which he used the N-word, the man said. He then noted instead that Yawkey did leave a document: his team on the field, which was a shameful reminder that the Red Sox were destined to be all-white for as long as they could be.
From Robinson’s arrival in Brooklyn to Green’s arrival in Boston, 10 of the 26 MVP awards in baseball went to players of color. The All-Star Games from 1948-1959 became a cornucopia of race, with dozens of Hall-of-Famers-to-be, ranging from Hank Aaron and Luis Aparicio to Jackie Robinson and Frank Robinson. It would seem that had Yawkey felt the need to integrate, there were more than a few candidates out there who could have easily fit into the Red Sox system.
Four years after Green integrated the Red Sox, Vivian Malone and James Hood integrated the University of Alabama. It took the federal government sending in the National Guard to pry George Wallace out of the schoolhouse door, but Malone and Hood were able to register that June day.
Unfortunately, not even the National Guard could break through the white lace curtain of the university’s sorority system that exists today.
The student newspaper, the Crimson White, broke the story this week that 50 years after the university itself integrated, the sororities on campus remain almost entirely segregated. According to the article, in 2003 Carla Ferguson became the first black woman to pledge a traditional white sorority through the formal recruitment process. She accepted a bid to one sorority but remains the only black woman to actually enter this lily-white world.
The issue came to light after several sorority members came forth to complain that a candidate who had a 4.3 GPA, was a salutatorian and had a strong family tie to the university, didn’t make the cut for any of the 16 sororities on campus. The sorority members in some cases noted alumnae pressure as a reason why this woman wasn’t offered a bid.
The newspaper story itself is a series of ridiculous “no comment” statements from the officials associated with the various sororities. One alumna noted that it was “policy procedure” and offered nothing else to the pressing journalist. The adviser at one of the sororities who was said to have forced the girls to drop the pledge said the group was “a private membership organization” and that the selection process was confidential. Another sorority’s president said it “does not share why or why not a member was selected for membership.” Others declined to comment publically.
In short, “Good luck finding a smoking gun. We were very careful not to call her a nigger in public.”
Yet, these organizations are a living, breathing document of segregation. The university itself has a racial mix in which about 19 percent of the student body is not white. The state itself is about 28 percent non-white. In the 50 years since Hood and Malone sidled past Gov. George Wallace and registered for classes, can these sororities honestly claim that despite honest and forthright efforts, not a SINGLE quality candidate of color could be found?
Each year, they draw in a collection of like-minded and like-skinned candidates and replenish their ranks with more of the same. As the organizations continue to get whiter and whiter, it’s likely that fewer and fewer women of color will consider pledging. What’s the point? Why put yourself through the aggravation?
It seems as though this is the point: If we can make it something difficult to attain for people we don’t want to join, they’ll go away and then we can say, “Hey, we just don’t get that many people from (fill in the blank) who want to join our group. It’s not our fault.”
Unfortunately for these people, this woman was more than qualified. She had the grades, the connections and the values the organizations alleged to espouse. Her scores during the recruiting process were said to be off the charts. Then, as someone noted in the CW story, her face was in the slide show of potential members one minute and then gone the next, quietly swept toward the back door without a second thought.
This year, like every other year, each of these 16 sororities will hang a composite on the wall of the sorority’s house. It will feature the faces of the members who took on the mantel of sisterhood in that institution. As is the case almost every year, all of the faces staring out from those composites will be white.
These images do not serve as a smoking gun, but they are yet one more damning document in a shameful history in which quiet rejection speaks louder than anything.