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A Tosa State of Mind

Alderman Dennis McBride represents Wauwatosa's 4th District. An attorney and graduate of Wauwatosa East High School, Ald. McBride strives to be an effective, thoughtful, and nonpartisan representative for his constituents and for his hometown.

Moments of courage and grace

Those who know me know I love history and the lessons we can learn from people of courage.  As a sinner, I hope to learn from those who have experienced moments of grace.  Here are two such moments in honor of Black History Month:

One Sunday morning in 1866, less than a year after surrendering the Confederate Army to Union General Ulysses S. Grant to end the Civil War, General Robert E. Lee was worshipping in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia. An African-American ex-slave, who had entered the church unnoticed, walked to the communion rail.  White parishioners were shocked and remained in their seats. Lee rose from his pew, walked to the rail, and knelt next to the man. They received communion side by side. The rest of the congregation followed.  

Lee never was an egalitarian.  But the Civil War had ended in the defeat of the cause for which he had fought. He realized that America had changed.

In 1946, Brooklyn Dodgers shortstop and captain Harold “Pee Wee” Reese returned to the U.S. after serving in the Navy during World War II.  On the way home, Reese learned that the Dodgers had signed another shortstop, Jackie Robinson, who would become the first African-American to play major league baseball since the 1880s.   Reese knew that he would have to struggle to keep his job.

Even so, he refused to sign a players’ petition that threatened a boycott if Robinson joined the team, and the boycott failed.  When he met Robinson, it was the first time that Reese, a white man who was born and raised in the segregated South, had ever shaken hands with a black man. 

When the season opened in Brooklyn, Reese was at shortstop and Robinson was at second base. In May 1947, the Dodgers left on their first road trip of the season and traveled to Cincinnati for a game against the Cincinnati Reds.  During pre-game infield practice, the Cincinnati fans made Robinson the target of an unending series of racist taunts.  Reese became incensed.  He walked over to Robinson and put his arm around his teammate's shoulder.  The taunts ceased.  This simple gesture symbolized the end of the "color line" in baseball and the beginning of a deep friendship which ended only with Robinson’s death in 1972.

Reese and Robinson are members of baseball’s Hall of Fame.  They earned that honor on the field, but their greatness was measured less by batting averages and fielding percentages than by their courage and character.

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