Reggie Jackson on playing in segregated Birmingham in 1967: 'I wouldn't wish it on anybody'

Reggie Jackson is a member of the Birmingham Barons Hall of Fame.

Before he became a five-time World Series champion and a Hall of Fame player, Jackson led the double-A Southern League with 84 runs, 17 triples, 26 doubles and 17 stolen bases in 1967, his only season with the minor league squad.

But Jackson’s memories of his time in Birmingham, Ala., are anything but pleasant.

“I wouldn’t wish it on anybody,” Jackson said numerous times Thursday while speaking on Fox’s pregame show for the first Major League Baseball game to be played at Rickwood Field, the historic former home of the Barons as well as the Negro Leagues’ Black Barons.

The St. Louis Cardinals beat the San Francisco Giants 6-5 in Thursday’s game, billed as “A Tribute to the Negro Leagues” in honor of all the great Negro Leagues players who played at Rickwood from 1920 to 1960. Willie Mays, the legendary Giants outfielder who died Tuesday at age 93, famously played for the Black Barons in 1948.

Asked by Fox analyst Alex Rodriguez about the emotions he was feeling in his return to Rickwood, Jackson spoke uninterrupted for nearly three minutes on what it was like to be a Black man in the Deep South in 1967.

“Coming back here is not easy,” said Jackson, who went on to have a 21-year big league career with the Kansas City and Oakland Athletics, Baltimore Orioles, New York Yankees and Angels. “The racism when I played here, the difficulty of going through different places where we traveled — fortunately, I had a manager and I had players on the team that helped me through it. But I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.

“I would never want to do it again. I walked into restaurants and they would point at me and say, ‘The n— can’t eat here.’ I would go to a hotel and they’d say, ‘The n— can’t stay here.’ We went to [Kansas City Athletics owner] Charlie Finley’s country club for a welcome home dinner and they pointed me out with the N-word, ‘He can’t come in here.’ Finley marched the whole team out. … Finally, they let me in there and he said, ‘We’re going to go to the diner and eat hamburgers. We’ll go where we’re wanted.’

“Fortunately, I had a manager in Johnny McNamara that if I couldn’t eat in a place, nobody would eat. We’d get food to travel. If I couldn’t stay in a hotel, they’d drive to a hotel to find a place where I could stay. Had it not been for Rollie Fingers, Johnny McNamara, Dave Duncan, Joe and Sharon Rudi — I slept on their couch three, four nights a week for about a month and a half. Finally, they were threatened that they’d burn our apartment complex down unless I got out. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.”

Jackson spoke of a dark time in the city’s history, including the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church by white supremacists that killed four Black girls, ages 11 to 14.

“At the same time,” Jackson said, “had it not been for my white friends, had it not been for a white man in [Finley] and Rudi and Fingers and Duncan and Lee Meyers, I would have never made it. I was too physically violent. I was ready to physically fight [someone]. I’d have gotten killed here because I’d have beat someone’s ass and you’d have saw me in an oak tree somewhere.”

At that point, Rodriguez put his arm around Jackson, while fellow Fox commentator Kevin Burkhardt initially struggled for words in response to what he had just heard.

“Reggie, I — I can’t even imagine,” Burkhardt said. “It’s awful you had to go through that. But, hey, you know, appreciate you sharing the rawness and the honesty of it with our audience.”

“We love you, Reg,” Rodriguez said.

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