This week is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream speech'. It is one of the great speeches in American history.
I'm old enough to remember it and thought it was a big deal back then. It provided me an important piece of my growing up puzzle. Of course, growing up puzzles where you finally have it assembled and 'get it' usually take decades to put together.
King's speech provided me some of the context (too young to understand that word back then) for the civil rights movement and I needed that help.
I just couldn't understand the violence that was being perpetrated on civil rights works. The murders of three workers by the Klan. The firebombings of freedom bus rides. The murder of Medgar Evers, the dogs attacking children, church bombings, police beating peaceful marches and fire hosing people who were committing no crime greater than singing 'We Shall Over Come'.
As I grew older and put more of the pieces of my own puzzle together, I came to realize one of the reasons I didn't understand what was happening back then was because of baseball.
Does that seem strange? You have to view the world through the eyes of a little kid living in the 50s to understand that idea.
I've come to believe Jackie Robinson was one of the most important Americans of the 20th Century. His breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball was profound. He did it with courage, humility and Hall of Fame athletic ability.
Once he smashed through that barrier, it seemed to completely crumbled away in a few years time. My memories go back to the mid to late 50s. I grew up in Joliet, Il south of Chicago.
I lived with my family in one of those post war baby boom subdivisions. As a little kid, I did not know I lived in a segregated community, but I did. There were no blacks or hispanics in my subdivision. They were just not allowed, but it wasn't talked about and I didn't have a clue about this kind of segregation.
There were four to six kids in every house and every summer the little white boys would play baseball - a lot of baseball.
As new houses went up, we'd have to move from one lot to another and find another brick for home, rock for the bases and a board with a nail in it for the pitcher's mound.
Imagine a world with just a few channels of TV. That was the 50s, but growing up outside of Chicago we got WGN and that meant we got the Cubs. We got to watch the great Ernie Banks.
Erine was our hero. All of the little white boys wanted to be like Ernie or grow up to play with Mr. Cub. What a dream that was.
Page 2 of 2 - There was never a negative word said by any kid about the color of his skin. It was a complete non-issue for a bunch of eight and ten year old boys who were living in an all white suburb and playing baseball.
Ernie was one of the most charismatic, charming and decent people you could watch on TV. The way he treated people had a profound impact on us.
It was not just the kids I was playing with who experienced this, but millions of little white boys playing baseball experienced this all across America. If it wasn't wanting to be Ernie Banks; it was to be Hank Aaron in Milwaukee or Boston; or Jackie Robinson in New York or LA; or Willie Mays in San Francisco or New York.
An entire generation of white boys accepted these athletes as our heroes without question. This I think had a profound impact on the American culture.
Imagine if segregation of baseball had still existed when I was a little boy. An entire generation of baby boom white kids would have been fed that lie. That blacks were inferior and that they were not allowed to play in the Majors. We would have adopted that lie.
I think that would have made the progress toward civil rights much more difficult. In nuanced yet sublime way baseball taught my generation a lot about racial equality.
As I grew older Dr. King's message made all the more sense to me. I and my friends thought we had big dreams of being like or as good as Ernie Banks. On that day 50 years ago Martin Luther King was dreaming about much bigger things.
To this day Martin, Ernie, Willie, Hank and Jackie remain a credit to their race - the human race.