Love Of The Game Changed People's Attitudes Forever
Posted November 7, 1999 6:00 a.m. EST
FUQUAY-VARINA — Twenty-four years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, a similar thing happened in North Carolina.
There was no fanfare, no media attention and none of the problems that many saw in 1947. It was the result of a quiet conspiracy between two men who loved baseball and knew the time had come for change in a local small town.
The roots of our national pastime run deep in Fuquay-Varina. It is a Little League run by coaches and parents, and umpire Aaron Jordan is clearly in charge.
It is ironic because there was a time when Jordan and other blacks were shut out. Jordan unknowingly helped break down that barrier.
"If it had been in the paper and all this stuff, there might have been some problems, but it was not," said former coach Mickey Smith.
Smith and Emery Lacy were Little League coaches there. In 1971, in the shadows of Atkins Field, they quietly conspired.
"We were afraid that they would get heckled by the fans, and we just didn't know," Smith said. "So we were telling them kind of like Branch Rickey did Jackie Robinson."
As local schools were being integrated in 1971, three of the six Little League teams drafted black players, and 11-year-old Jordan was one of the first.
"I thought the reason we got to play was because of the schools integrating," Jordan said. "I thought that was the only reason we got to play."
"It did more for making change, as it should be. Even in the schools and everywhere else. I mean, it helped," said Smith.
But it was not easy. The quiet conspiracy challenged prevailing attitudes, and some people were angry.
"So they came to me in the drug store, one of the coaches' wives, and said 'I understand you're going to draft a black player.' And I said 'I am if he deserves to be up there.' So, they indicated to me that they'd have to go somewhere else to get their prescriptions. And they did for a while," said Smith.
Lacy did lose one player. That child's father pulled him off the team.
"I think he went home but came back the next day. He changed his mind," said Lacy.
"Every person that was opposed to it, they turned around and changed their whole way of thinking," said Smith.
"I didn't know that I couldn't play baseball around here. And for them to tell me today that I couldn't, and to know that they were the ones that got it started, I feel even more better about them now," said Jordan.
Now, Jordan shares his passion for baseball with others.
The schools integrated in 1967. A few years before that, predominantly white Fuquay Springs merged with predominantly black Varina.
To bring things full circle, Smith's grandson now plays in the Fuquay-Varina Little League, and Jordan umpires his games.