A State Of Confusion | Alabama Wants To Celebrate The Negro Leagues While Eliminating Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Programs In Schools

Birmingham, Alabama, prepares to move to the forefront of promoting MLB diversity and the rich history of the Negro Leagues when the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants play a regular season game at the oldest professional ballpark in the United States. 

Rickwood Field the former home of the Negro Leagues’ Birmingham Black Barons — where Willie Mays once played — will host the game on June 20, 2024.

“We are proud to bring Major League Baseball to historic Rickwood Field in 2024,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said. “This opportunity to pay tribute to the Negro Leagues…at this iconic location is a great honor. The legacy of the Negro Leagues and its greatest living player, Willie Mays, is one of excellence and perseverance. We look forward to sharing the stories of the Negro Leagues.”

Mayor of Birmingham Fights Against Law Ending Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Programs at Public Schools and Universities in Alabama

At the same time, the city is entrenched in a political and legislative battle with the state that definitely doesn’t coincide with the enthusiasm for the game at Rickwood Field and everything it represents and entails. 

“I can’t believe it. I never thought I’d see in my lifetime a Major League Baseball game being played on the very field where I played baseball as a teenager,” said 92-year-old Mays, who was a 16-year-old junior in high school when he played with the Barons. 

Birmingham Mayor Randall L. Woodfin knows better than anyone about the division within his state.

“I am so excited that Birmingham will be able to share the magic and legacy of Rickwood Field with Major League Baseball’s millions of fans,” Woodfin said. “America’s oldest professional ballpark still echoes with the sounds of the legends who graced this field. I want to thank Major League Baseball for sharing this vision to commemorate Juneteenth and celebrate the Negro Leagues in the Magic City.”

Woodfin is a fine politician, but his philosophy is “putting people first.” So, while he supports his city in this feel-good baseball story, Woodfin is also involved in a battle that a baseball game can’t solve. He’s standing up and supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at public schools and universities in Alabama.

On Thursday, a committee of the Alabama Senate approved Senate Bill 129, banning diversity, equity and inclusion programs from various state institutions, ranging from local school boards to state-level government agencies to public universities.

The proposed law headed to the House of Representatives would also ban any program that taught “a divisive concept,” such as teaching that “slavery and racism are aligned with the founding principles of the United States” and that “fault, blame, or bias should be assigned to members of a race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin, on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin.”

Critics worry that the broad language could eventually threaten multicultural student groups at Alabama colleges. The committee’s approval of the bill was driven exclusively by white and Republican committee members. Many of whom publicly support the event at Rickwood Field.

Mayor Woodfin Threatens To Steer Black Student-Athletes Out Of Alabama Schools If Senate Bill 129 Passes

On a social media post on Facebook, Woodfin said he would encourage parents of minority student-athletes to choose colleges in other states that prioritize diversity and inclusion if lawmakers push forward with the new law.

The joyous occasion celebrating the rich history of the Negro Leagues doesn’t hide the fact that state Senate Bill 129 strikes at the heart of equality.

In his explosive Facebook post, Woodfin, one of the rising progressive voices in the country, asked the “leadership, athletic directors, and coaches” of those colleges whether they supported this law.

Birmingham Mayor Randall L. Woodfin supports MLB’s Negro Leagues Tribute at Rickwood Field, but is against Senate Bill 129, banning diversity, equity and inclusion programs from various state institutions, ranging from local school boards to state-level government agencies to public universities. (Photo: Getty images)

 “To the parents of minority athletes…Would you be cool with your child playing at schools where diversity among staff is actively being discouraged?”

Woodfin is passionate about this bill and how it could reverse much of the progress made in these southern institutions who have reluctantly embraced the state’s troubled history in order to form a more inclusive tomorrow. He’s willing to make an even deeper cut against the grain to stand on business with this issue.  

“Although I’m the biggest Bama fan, I have no problem organizing Black parents and athletes to attend other institutions outside of the state where diversity and inclusion are prioritized. If supporting inclusion becomes illegal in this state, hell, you might as well stand in front of the school door like Governor [George] Wallace,” who was a staunch segregationist…Mannnn it’s Black History Month. Y’all could have at least waited until March 1.”

Negro League Celebration Contradicts Bill Ending Diversity and Inclusion In Alabama Schools

It’s wild that the city of Birmingham teams up with MLB to be featured as a shining example of turning bad history into a learning experience that unifies people, while the state pushes back against the notion of promoting diversity and inclusion.  

“Rickwood Field has played a significant role in the Birmingham community for over a hundred years, and we’re thrilled to be a special part of this event in 2024,” Black Barons president and general manager Jonathan Nelson said.

The Black Barons played their Negro League home games at Rickwood Field from 1924 through 1960. The field hosted the final Negro League World Series game in October 1948, with the Homestead Grays defeating a teenage Mays and the Barons. 

The greatest legends in baseball history have played at Rickwood Field: Mays, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Cool Papa Bell, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Oscar Charleston, Roberto Clemente, Joe DiMaggio, Larry Doby, Rube Foster, Lou Gehrig, Josh Gibson, Monte Irvin, Reggie Jackson, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Satchel Paige, Frank Robinson, Jackie Robinson, Babe Ruth, Duke Snider and Honus Wagner, just to name a few. 

How can you celebrate them, and their complicated legacies and then turn your nose on educational diversity? Aren’t the two intertwined as important learning tools and reminders of what not to do as a society? There’s also lessons to be learned in how these oppressed humans persevered despite insurmountable odds. 

The world is moving quickly, times are changing, and history must be preserved not hidden. There are places in this country that were participants in the worst parts of American history, and they have an opportunity to fully commit to creating a more unified nation.

But everybody has to be on the same page. Right now, Alabama seems to be a state that’s still torn between what it has been and what it has the potential to be.

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