Halloween marks the 65th Anniversary of the night the NBA color line was broken by Earl Lloyd right here in Rochester at the old Edgerton Park Arena. Below is a post — with new information added — from March 2, 2015, a few days after Lloyd died. Rochester fans treated the event with grace.
This anniversary is a fitting time to remember when in May 1946 Jackie Robinson broke the baseball color code in Rochester. At the end are two explanatory essays: the first a Guest Essay for the Democrat & Chronicle written in February, 2008, and below that a more detailed one for About Time Magazine. As they would again four years later, Rochester fans — unlike in other International League cities — also treated Robinson with grace.
In both essays, I speculated, “Most likely, Jackie did not stay in the same hotel as his white Montreal teammates.” Since then I learned where Jackie did stay. Walt Williams, security guard at the Rochester Public Library, was a teen when Jackie was in Rochester. The guard remembers meeting Jackie at the downtown YMCA. Walt recalls Jackie chatting informally with a small gathering of African-American boys. We both lamented, if only you had gotten his autograph!
• March 2, 2015
Many of my RCSD students are huge NBA fans. Social Studies teacher that I am, I sometimes bemoan their lack of historical knowledge about the game’s past, reminding them that Rochester itself once boasted an NBA champion. Occasionally, I explain – sometimes to their surprise – that in the first years of the NBA African-American players were tacitly forbidden to play.
That’s why it was interesting to learn when the first black player, Earl Lloyd, finally entered the league on October 31st, 1950, it took place here in Rochester at the old Edgerton Park Arena. Lloyd, who passed away a few days ago, played for the visiting Washington Capitols.
Curious to learn how Rochestarians responded to Lloyd’s appearance, I found two reports of the game in the D & C and the Times Union. The only reference to Lloyd was in the Times Union in which he is described as the “Negro star from West Virginia State.” Searching the days prior to and after the game and found no more mention of what we now see as a historic event. Apparently, the game was played without incident, confirmed by Lloyd’s later account that he felt no racial animosity from Rochester fans that night or on his return visits.
In 1950 Rochester was certainly a segregated town and many of its black inhabitants were treated as second class citizens. But is heartening to know on that night without incident, Lloyd was just another basketball player from a visiting team. In a way, Rochester made history by not making history.
I kindly received this email (sent to the D & C ) from reader Sanford Rubin in response to the printed version of this post.
I just wanted to pass along my enjoyment and admiration in reading David Kramer’s ‘Quietly making history’ piece in this morning’s editorial page. As a history buff myself I found David’s (local) historical perspective on Earl Lloyd’s “making history by not making history” recollection of Lloyd’s “quiet” appearance at the Edgerton Park Sports Arena on Oct. 31, 1950 to be superb in every way. The piece was especially appealing to me because as a seven year old my father took me to that same Edgerton Park Sports Arena in 1952 for my first exposure to a major sports event to watch the Rochester Royals compete, then as defending NBA champions. That single event transformed me into an instant sports fan for life.
When Mr. Kramer again visits this wonderful recollection with his Social Studies class, in case he is not as old as me and therefore wouldn’t have had the opportunity to frequent Edgerton Park, to give an idea how much professional sports has changed, when I attended that game over 62 years ago, I watched the scoreboard being kept manually by a fellow hoisted up by a ladder who changed the numbers with cardboard numbered cards.