Visiting New Hampshire today, Mississippi Governor and presumed Presidential candidate Haley Barbour mentioned that he is a huge Red Sox fan. Andrew Cline of the Union-Leader, wary of pandering, asked for details and got Barbour reminiscing about his mother taking him to Sox spring training from his earliest years, and giving him a Red Sox jacket for his 12th birthday.
Those were the years when the Red Sox were notorious for refusing to put a black player on the team.
As you may know, Barbour has recently earned some bad press for his blithe attitude about the Southern racism of his youth.
To be sure, it is not surprising that a Yazoo family might have been Red Sox fans, thanks to the Sarasota spring training site. (By the way, I found this bio of his friend and high school teammate, Jerry Moses, who played for the Red Sox, that mentions Haley & his mother's allegiance to the Sox.) But it's certainly not hard to imagine that racism played some role for some Mississippians siding with the Boston squad at the time.
They were hardly the only team to train in that area. The Boston Braves, who integrated in 1950, were next door in Bradenton. Others had trained in the same area, but left for the West and elsewhere in those days in no small part because of the institutional racism in Florida.
Barbour was born in 1947, the year Jackie Robinson integrated the Major Leagues. The Red Sox were the very last team to integrate, in 1959 -- the year Barbour turned 12 and got his prized jacket -- but they put only token, bit-player African-Americans on the roster for several more years.
It would have been during those years in the '50s when Barbour and his mother gave Jimmy Piersall a ride to the ballpark from the hotel where the Sox were staying, according to the tale he told Cline. I am not an expert historian on this stuff, but my understanding is that this was a whites-only hotel into the 1960s.
Again, those who know better can correct me, but Barbour would have sat in a whites-only section to watch the Sox played their spring training games in Payne Park, which was strictly segregated. If he went to the beach during those trips, those were segregated as well.
1959 was also the year that the Sox moved their spring training from Sarasota to Arizona, where they trained for the next five years. It is pretty well established that the team moved its training site, in large part, because Scottsdale was legally segregated -- African-Americans were not allowed in city limits after dark, so Green and other black players had to stay in a hotel in Phoenix, separate from the rest of the team.
None of this is to say that Barbour or his family chose to root for the Red Sox specifically because they held a firm line against integration -- or to suggest, God forbid, that there's anything wrong with claiming the Sawx as your favorite team today.
I just think it's good to remind ourselves that Jim Crow is not some long-distant history -- Southerners of Barbour's age grew up thoroughly immersed in it. Many of them have come to acknowledge the horrific nature of that. Others, like Barbour, act like they didn't notice. Or don't care.