Lester Rodney Has Died

Lester Rodney, the onetime sportswriter who in the 1930’s and 1940’s was one of the fiercest and most insistent white advocates of the integration of major league baseball, died on Sunday, his family has announced. He was 98 years old.

Rodney’s advocacy found its forum in the pages of The Daily Worker, the house organ of the American Communist Party, from which he resigned in 1958. In 1936, he talked the paper into changing its paucity of sports coverage into a full-fledged section, of which he was hired as editor, even though he was not yet a member of the party. His writings consistently underscored a parallel few were willing to recognize, especially in sports: that the growing marginalization of the Jews and other religious and social groups by the Nazis in Germany and later Europe, had a too-close-for-comfort parallel in this country’s marginalization of African-Americans. 
In a less violent but no less prejudiced aspect, Rodney noted that most Americans were appalled – or at least discomfited – at the thought that deference to Hitler led to our American team leaving Marty Glickman off the Jesse Owens-led relay squad at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. But few seemed disturbed that America was denying its greatest black baseball players an opportunity to reach whatever success they could achieve here.
Given how the color line was ultimately broken, it was particularly ironic that Rodney aimed much of his criticism at his favorite team, the Brooklyn Dodgers. As early as 1938 Rodney was advocating a baseball opportunity for a young multi-sport athlete from Southern California named Jackie Robinson. The writer would be completing his honorable military service in the South Pacific when Branch Rickey signed Robinson to a minor league contract for the 1946 season, nearly a decade after Rodney had begun to champion the cause most other white writers – and even fans – ignored.
Moving to California about the same time the Dodgers did, Rodney became, of all things, the religion editor of The Long Beach Press-Telegram. Ever the athlete, he was still playing competitive tennis at the age of 87. His children report that he passed away on the morning of the 20th, at home, and in what may be no surprise to anyone who knew him or knew of him, “he was with it until just before the end and thanks to hospice he had a pain free week.”
Robinson’s role in the integration of the game is obvious and Rickey’s has been lauded. Pressure from the great black sportswriters of the ’30s and ’40s, like Sam Lacy of The Baltimore Afro-American, is even acknowledged. Lester Rodney – writing in the most unlikely setting and advocating what was then the most unlikely of societal changes – was as important as any of them to the eventual righting of this extraordinary wrong.
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LESTER RODNEY, 1911-2009

90 Comments

Fascinating blog entry about a courageous man. It took guts back then, to champion the cause of integration, in any walk of life. It’s unnerving to think that, not such a long time ago, the line between “white” and “colored” (the term used back then) was so distinctly drawn. However, it’s even more unnerving to think of how many people today still have that line drawn inside their own minds, even as society as a whole rejects it.

It’s amazing that Lester Rodney was playing competitive tennis clear up to the age of 87. Thank heavens that he was free from pain near the end, because that’s always such a relief for the patient’s loved ones, as well as the patient him/herself.

All in all, he sounds like a fascinating person. Thank you for bringing his story to us, even though it was under unfortunate circumstances. Lester Rodney deserves to be remembered for being outspoken and courageous about something we now take for granted.

I agree with everything unpaka said. Thank you for telling us about the courage of Lester Rodney. A good life should not go unnoticed or unremarked. It’s always amazing to me that those who appear to be “radical” in their own time are often just way ahead of the curve. It’s a shame it takes the rest of us so long to catch up. Humanity, decency, and caring for the rights of others shouldn’t be seen as radical – ever – but all too often they are, at least by those who are still owned by prejudice and fear. By the way, thank you again for that Special Comment you did on Prop 8 some time back… I still watch it (and the hour-long health care comment) every now and then. You have a good heart, and a lot of compassion for others. That’s a beautiful thing to see, and far too rare. It takes courage to show that much of your inner self to the world. I don’t know why so many people are afraid of emotions, but I’m glad you’re not one of them. I have a great deal of respect for you, for many reasons. I still want you to be my tour guide through the Baseball Hall of Fame someday. Hey, I can dream, can’t I? :)

Mr. Rodney waited until 1958 to resign from the ACP? Until after Joe McCarthy was dead? How adorably contrary!

That communist nonsense doesn’t work.

What a moving story you told here. It literally stopped me in my tracks as I read it over and over.

It seems that as our older generations die off, we know we are losing some very special people. People with integrity, honesty and courage.

It’s so difficult to find individuals any longer who can think and behave in an independent way; to be unique from everyone else. But that takes believing in something important; it means taking the trouble to try and make a difference, something sorely missing these days except for a few instances. But it’s still nice to be reminded that there were people like that all those years ago, during some very very controversial and difficult times in our country.

A really beautifully written and interesting article.

Thank you Keith for all your hard work this year. Your viewers appreciate it and look foward to your return after the holidays.

Merry Christmas and the very best to you in 2010. You are a gem for those of us who are always hungry for an intelligent, humorous and interesting perspective.

“Even on the greatest teams, there’s always one role player.” Keith Olbermann

‘Tis a pity you are away just as the s**t is hitting the fan in the progressive community. lol

I had the good fortune of speaking and corresponding with Lester on a few occasions while I was writing a book called ?Willie?s Boys,? published this year, about how Willie Mays played his way out of the Negro Leagues and into what his contemporaries called ?White Folks Ball.?

I remember Lester?s enthusiasm for Mays. He still remembered the play Mays made as a rookie in 1951, when Mays ran down Carl Furillo?s shot and then made an astonishing throw to double up Billy Cox tagging from third.

A few days later, Lester mailed me a copy of his story from 1951. I didn?t even ask for it. He just said, ?What?s your address, I?m gonna send you something.? It made my day.

When we talked more, and I told him that I was working on a book about Mays coming out of Birmingham, he asked me what Mays had gone through. I remember him saying that the New York media had no clue where this guy came from.

I always liked the one-on-one reporter feel Lester had with me, even though I was in my early 30s and he was in his mid-80s. I loved the old-school New York newspaper syntax he spoke in, direct and to the point. Our discussions were always concise, but meaningful.

What I cherish most is his interest in what I was doing. Here was a guy who was an advocate for integration and here I was, six decades later, writing that story around a player it had never been written around. He made me feel really good about myself. In turn, I liked the feeling that I was carrying on the kind of hard-nosed reporting that was about social change as much as baseball.

I am very proud and grateful to have had even the smallest interactions with Lester. I still have the envelope and his letter, packed away as he would have liked, in a heavy bin full of reporter?s notes.

John Klima

Irwin Silber worked with Lester Rodney on Silber’s biography of Rodney, Press Box Red, and it’s worth a read to get a sense of Rodney’s commitment to opening up baseball (just to make full disclosure, I worked with Silber on the book) and to see not only how he helped to force the integration of baseball, but how he was also a source for many reporters in continuing to pressure the commissioner and owners to open up the game.

As the co-host of a emmorable jackie Robinson Conference at LIU, April 3-5, 1997, I had the distinct pleasure of reconnecting with Lester Rodney. At that time the 86 year old retired newspaper man was winning tennis tournaments in his age bracket and losing recognition for his heroic efforts to end racial discrimination in sports. Our conference and books by Jules Tygiel and Arnold Rampersad brought Lester out of the shadows. Rodney regained the public spotlight on televsion, radio, and in the print media. Irwin Silber’s oral biography cemented Rodney’s reputation as a brilliant visionary journalist. His essay, “White Dodgers, Black Dodgers: graces our book on Jackie Robinson. Like his hero Jackie, Lester was a mentsch for all seasons.

Lester, you will be missed! Lets all keep in mind that his socialist tendencies were likely affected by his father losing his family business and house at the beginning of the depression, when Soviet communism was in full force, and the talk of academic circles. The lack of a medical alarm could have contributed to his death, although he seemed to live an extremely long and fulfilling life.

They don’t come along like him anymore. He will be missed, but he lived a full life.

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Rest in peace Rodney wherever you are we will soon be joining your because that is our fate and destiny. I was just pondering what kind of service you have given us and did we appreciate it? The integration of the Major League Baseball is just part of your resume – Jordan

You will be missed. The legacy you leave is great, not for the integration of MLB, but the kind of person you were. best spyware remover

you will be missed. The legacy you leave behind goes way beyond the integration of MLB, but the kind of person you were. best spyware remover

Oh my!!! You are just too true to be good. How do you manage to write and research on such wonderful things? You have inspired me to work harder now. I shall try as much as possible to enjoy life to the fullest and be satiated with the wonderful things that are around me, which I have been unaware of until now.
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Lester Rodney was a legend. I had to do a school assignment when i was younger and chose him. How sad to have lost such a great advocate for the game.Computer Courses

i truly admire this person, i wish i had one tenth of that courage…

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i admire this person, i wish i had one tenth of his courage…
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Great person – truly inspirational!
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Robinson’s role in the integration of the game is obvious and Rickey’s has been lauded. Pressure from the great black sportswriters of the ’30s and ’40s, like Sam Lacy of The Baltimore Afro-American,Gem Shopping Network is even acknowledged. Abdominal MesotheliomaLester Rodney – writing in the most unlikely setting and advocating what was then the most unlikely of societal changes – was as important as any of them to the eventual righting of this extraordinary wrong.

May he rest in peace… at least he lived a long and fullfiled life :) My dad was a huge fan of him, I remember he talked a lot about him when I was a kid. RIP Lester Rodney. Mike @ hemorrhoid treatment

Thanks for the post Keith. I love hearing stories about the early years of baseball. I wish I could have been around then. Sad to hear about Lester.
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Thanks for post Keith. I love reading stories about the early years of baseball. Wish I could have been around then. Sad to hear about Lester.
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Lester Rodney was an early advocate acting against racial discrimination in professional sports, praising the talent of black players to support his arguments. RIP. Bijoux Jade

Good bless his soul. It is easy to advocate equality now. But at that time it was heroic especially by a white guy. Even as late as 1960s there were serious prejudice against anyone who is not white in America. refinance quote

Good bless his soul. It is easy to advocate equality now. But at that time it was heroic especially by a white guy. Even as late as 1960s there were serious prejudice against anyone who is not white in America.. thanks

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Lester Rodney was a legend. I had to do a school assignment when i was younger and chose him. How sad to have lost such a great advocate for the game.

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For decades, Rodney was advised younger writer than a past pen, a man whose efforts to refrain destroy the colorize ban in ball was forgotten because he was a commie.
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For decades, Rodney was advised younger writer than a past pen, a man whose efforts to refrain destroy the colorize ban in ball was forgotten because he was a commie.
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Thanks for the Fantastic Piece. Go Rangers!
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used car in baton rouge Lester Rodney was a great person. The world is now miss a great sports writer. We will always remember him. He is the idol for the all sports writer.

Wow it’s been over a year now and still there is a huge gap left by Lester Rodney… red ring of death fix

He truly made a mark with his long career. We all gonna miss you Sir Lester

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My favorite play is base ball. My favorite player Lester Rodney, the onetime sportswriter who in the 1930’s and 1940’s was one of the fiercest and most insistent white advocates of the integration of major league baseball.

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It is always sad, when distinguished people are diying…but they are always in our hearts and give us a great example of a strong and full life!
Lester Rodney was one of them and baseball will never forget him…
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Très désolé qu’il soit mort. Il était un grand joueur de baseball. Mais apparemment, c’est son temps. La vie est comme la roulette en ligne. Nous sommes tous, et les hauts et les bas. Mais son jeu de baseball a été une hausse continue.

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