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How Jackie Robinson inspired one man 'to be somebody'

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

For today's StoryCorps, we look back on April 15, 1947, 75 years ago today, when Jackie Robinson became the first Black player in Major League Baseball. Before he took to Ebbets Field as a Brooklyn Dodger, Robinson was in spring training at Daytona Beach, Fla. That's where Harold Lucas Jr. grew up. He remembered Robinson with his daughter, D'Lorah.

D'LORAH BUTTS-LUCAS: Why was baseball so important to you as a kid?

HAROLD LUCAS JR: Well, baseball was one of the few things that you didn't have to have a whole lot of equipment for. You just had to have a glove, a ball and a bat. We used to go out and watch Jackie practice at the local playground where we used to all play at, which was about a quarter of a mile from where I lived. He used to hit fly balls out, and we would catch them. And he told us that he was just the beginning of what was going to be the future. He said, if I can do it now, there's no telling what you'll be able to do when your time comes.

BUTTS-LUCAS: What did you expect to see when you saw Jackie Robinson play that first game?

LUCAS: Everybody wanted to see Jackie play. In the Black community, we all were very excited. And when we found out that we could go, people took off of work to go down and see him. But, you know, with segregation, white people wre wondering why we were down there. So we didn't know what to expect because we were concerned about the atmosphere. And I didn't know that then, but I knew that something important was happening. Baseball is America's pastime. So if he was going to make it, then he had his job cut out for him. Jackie was a fiery competitor. He hated to lose, but he also had a lot of common sense because he knew that they're going to call you this word. They're going to throw popcorn on it. And of course, there was some heckling going on. But Jackie was so enthralling that they couldn't help but watch him. You know, even though you might not like somebody, if they can play baseball that well, then you'll cheer for them.

BUTTS-LUCAS: When Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, did you feel more hopeful for Black Americans?

LUCAS: Well, it gave me a stepping stone. I felt that Jackie was intelligent enough to realize that he was going to open the doors for many Black people in the areas other than the hotel or motel work. And as I look back at it now, I'm thankful for the advice that he gave us to try to prepare ourselves to be somebody. You see, you have to build on what people that come before you do. So if you can remember them first and the trials and tribulations of the things that they had to go through, then that should make you want to do the best that you can do.

FADEL: That was 89-year-old Harold Lucas Jr. with his daughter, D'Lorah Butts-Lucas. This StoryCorps interview will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.