By Ken Reed
The George Washington University Jackie Robinson Project (JRP) and the Jackie and Rachel Robinson Society have sent a proposal to Congressman Anthony Brown, Vice Chair of the House Armed Services Committee, to rename the military base Fort Hood in honor of Jackie Robinson.
The JRP began in 1996 to commemorate the then upcoming 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s breaking of Major League Baseball’s color barrier. The JRP’s objective is to preserve and promote the Robinson legacy with special emphasis on Jack’s role as an informal civil rights leader and his social and community activism. The Jackie and Rachel Robinson Society is a student organization founded at George Washington University in 2000.
The League of Fans believes this is an excellent idea and endorses the proposal.
Here is the JRP’s proposal:
The purpose of this message is to recommend that the military base now named Fort Hood be renamed THE JACKIE ROBINSON ARMY BASE.
Jackie Robinson is arguably the most significant American to have ever been stationed at Fort Hood. The discrimination he encountered there needs to be publicly acknowledged. Renaming Fort Hood in Jackie Robinson’s honor would be an important step in racial reconciliation and the advancement of civil rights.
Jackie Robinson was transferred from Fort Riley in Oklahoma to Fort Hood in Texas on April 13, 1944.
Robinson’s biographer, Arnold Rampersad, has described Jack’s experiences at Fort Hood in his biography of Robinson published in 1997. These experiences were devastating and culminated in Robinson’s court martial for refusing to move to the back of a military bus on July 6, 1944 (Army law forbade segregation on a military bus). After his discharge from the military, Robinson was quoted as saying, “I learned I was in two wars; one against a foreign enemy and one against discrimination at home.”
Among the many passages from Rampersad’s biography that illustrate Jackie Robinson’s experiences at Fort Hood are these:
“Jack quickly found that his lieutenant’s bars meant little to whites at Camp Hood.”
“Black soldiers and civilians had to deal with raw aspects of Jim Crow. Black soldiers, quartered in the least desirable part of the camp, in makeshift housing, lived segregated lives at every turn, with a separate USO and a separate officers’ club; venturing off the base, they faced a hostile, narrow-minded local population backed by stringent Jim Crow state laws and customs. Segregation there was so complete, a Black officer said, ‘I even saw outhouses marked White, Colored, and Mexican;’ this was on federal property.”
“In summing up (at Robinson’s court martial), the defense insisted that the case involved no violations of the Articles of War, as charged, but simply a situation in which a few individuals sought to vent their bigotry on a Negro they considered ‘uppity’ because he had the audacity to seek to exercise rights that belonged to him as an American and as a soldier.”
“The war was a time of sacrifice for countless Americans, but for Robinson it had been deeply frustrating. With the potential to become an excellent soldier and a leader of soldiers, he had been barred from making something substantial of his talents; the Army had come close to destroying him.”
On April 6, 2016, a plaque acknowledging Jackie Robinson’s association with Fort Hood was placed at the entrance to the base’s softball field. The inscription on the plaque reads:
Jackie R. Robinson
761st Tank Battalion Fort Hood, TX
United States Army, 1942-1944
Army Sports Program
Major League Baseball
Baseball Hall of Fame, 1962
The plaque’s wording is ironic for two reasons. First, the inscription says nothing about the discrimination Jackie Robinson encountered at Fort Hood. It sanitizes his experiences and ignores history the way it really happened. Second, placing the plaque at the entrance to a baseball field is especially problematic since it ignores the fact that Jack refused to participate in baseball (and football) at both Fort Riley and Fort Hood because the teams were racially segregated.
CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATION
Renaming Fort Hood THE JACKIE ROBINSON ARMY BASE would be an important step in racial reconciliation and the advancement of civil rights. It provides the United States Army with the opportunity to honor an American icon, a military veteran who served his country as an officer with honor and distinction, and who deserves to be remembered as a true American hero.
The JRP has also started a petition regarding this idea on change.org.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
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