The moment Jackie Robinson broke MLB's color barrier in 1947, he was confronted with an unstoppable wave of hate. The first few years of his career were hell. In 1947, Jackie Robinson was refused access to a Philadelphia hotel. Robinson was constantly threatened with death and humiliations, similar to the city who would not let him be within the hotel with his fellow players. The city was not the state that was “Dixie” – Mobile, or Atlanta It was The “City of Brotherly Love,” Philadelphia.
The owner of the Phillies insulted Robinson. He advised his players to follow suit. “Go back to the cotton fields.” he greeted Robinson. Later, Robinson said: “[F]or one wild and rage-crazed minute, I thought, ‘To hell with Mr. Rickey's noble experiment.” Northeastern racism was at its peak in 1947. It continued to bloom 10 years later.
The team that was the last to incorporate was the Boston Red Sox in 1957. The team did this during the same year Robinson was sacked. Bill Russell was fresh off being the captain of his US basketball team in winning the Olympic gold in the year 1956. He was picked as 2nd in the overall draft with the Celtics and finished his first year being a part of Boston in 1957. This was the year that he experienced New England racism. He was a follower of similar black NBA players, however, Bill Russell was the first truly black star and transformed the way in which basketball was played. But this didn't end racism.
In his time playing for Boston and dominating the field throughout in the 1960s, Russell continued to be treated as a butler by the city he played in. He was used as a tool by Boston fans as well as Boston politicians. If he hadn't been able to win championship after championship, there is no doubt that the deep racism and corrupt city would have been reflected upon Bill Russell.
In his memoir from 1979, Russell called the city of Boston a “flea market of racism.”
Boston had all the types, both new and old, in the most deadly version.” The city had corrupt city hall-crony racists, brick-throwing, send 'em back to Africa racists and in the university areas phony radical-chic racists… other than that, I liked the city.”
While Russell was recognized at the society club house, the Boston neighborhood was vandalized. Boston was the home of Jim Crow, a soft-spoken politician. A friend told me that Russell thought of Boston to be the “most racist” place he was a part of.
Bill Russell marched against open racism and Jim Crow. Russell also marched against “soft” racism. Russell was standing near Martin Luther King Jr, as King gave the “I Have a Dream” speech.
Russell and Robinson were close, not just because they had dreams of creating a more color-blind society, but because they were involved in the system to make a difference. Russell as well as Robinson were both smart and charming men, who were hotly angry with racists and discrimination. Both men had respect and dignity. The racists made fun of themselves but not of Robinson and Russell. One of Russell's many awards along with eleven NBA awards includes his Presidential Medal of Freedom.
When Jackie Robinson died, Russell was the sole pallbearer who did not happen to be the Dodger teammate. I believe Jackie is going to attend Russell's funeral, but only in spirit.
Rest in Peace, Mr. Russell