Mays returns, 54 years later

July 01, 2004

It is a happy accident that baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays is returning to Hagerstown in 2004, the 40th anniversary of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Mays made his professional debut in Hagerstown in 1950 with the Trenton (N.J.) Giants, but many of the Hagerstown fans who attended that game were blinded to Mays' talent by the color of his skin.

In interviews since then, Mays has said that Hagerstown was the worst for racial problems among the cities in which he played. We hope that when Mays appears here on Aug. 9, the city and its residents will more than make up for the shameful treatment he endured the first time around.

Mays' debut came 14 years prior to President Lyndon Johnson's push to pass civil-rights legislation that banned segregation in any facility offering public services - such as hotels and restaurants - and outlawed discrimination in hiring.


For those born in the last 30 years, the years of institutionalized segregation may seem like an improbable nightmare. But it was real, a time when African-Americans attended separate schools and stayed at different hotels when they traveled. Whether at home or on the road, black Americans could not eat at the same restaurants as whites, even though they were eligible for duty in America's armed forces.

For that matter, black soldiers who had fought for freedom in World War II did not find much waiting for them when they returned home.

For time to time, we hear people who say that those bad old days are gone and that it's time to stop dwelling on them.

We disagree. Remembering the mistakes of the past makes it less likely they'll be repeated in the future. It also reminds us that the work begun by President Johnson and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. isn't done yet.

The National Urban League reports that black Americans' earning power is only 73 percent of whites and their lifespan is, on average, six years less.

Until the statistics for all citizens are the same, and until all Americans are in the Rev. King's words, judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin, the work of racial reconciliation won't be done.

And until then, showing Willie Mays one heck of a welcome couldn't hurt.

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