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James Polk, the ballplayer

 

by Grace Tatter for the SOHP

Despite not having its own Major League Baseball team until the second half of the twentieth century, the South has produced many of the game’s finest players. Perhaps the most famous of which is Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play Major League baseball.

Robinson might be a saint to devotees of America’s great pastime, but even he had a temper.

To mark the end of baseball season (Go Sox!) and honor Robinson (who died 41 years ago today), we listened to Elizabeth Gritter’s 2006 interview with James K. Polk. An African-American trailblazer himself, Polk headed the Charlotte Bureau on Training and Placement and was a community leader in Charlotte.

But before that, Polk was a ballplayer.  His neighborhood, Grier Heights, churned out many professional athletes, and sports was one of the few points of interaction between white and black residents of the community. In 1948, Polk played for a Charlotte team that faced off against Robinson, who was travelling with Larry Doby, another MLB pioneer, on a barnstorming team.

Polk recalls:

“[…] I played second base that day. Jackie Robinson had not received a hit all the way down the line. So he hit a ball over second base. I went back and threw him out. When we changed innings he cussed me out. He cussed me.”

To learn more about the importance of sports to racial integration in Charlotte and in Polk’s Grier Heights neighborhood, check out the interview here:

http://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/sohp/id/8218/rec/1