Thursday, March 15, 2012

"We had a one-armed colored boy."

The following is an excerpt from a work-in-progress called The Town I Live In: A History of Fullerton.

Orla Jencks moved to Fullerton from South Dakota in 1913. He was one of the first students ever at Fullerton Junior College. He played baseball. In an interview for the Fullerton College Oral History Project (conducted in 1971), Jencks recalls one of the players on the team:

"We had a one-armed colored boy and he could pitch the baseball like nobody's business. He could really throw. He wasn't a large fellow. Sometimes the ball would be batted back at him and he could catch it with his bare hand and throw it to first. They didn't dare bat the ball anywhere near him because he'd get it. He did't have a glove in his way or anything. Some fellows would think, 'A one-handed pitcher, he can't do anything.' He'd just smile at them, you know, and fire one through and he'd fan them like nobody's business."

What strikes me about this quote is its undercurrent of irony. Jencks believes he is praising the one-armed pitcher and, in a way, he is. But he also calls him a "colored boy" which, even by 1971 standards, was pretty racist. In a lot of the interviews with old-timer residents of Fullerton, the people are reluctant to talk in depth about any of the racial inequities. For example, Jencks does not even mention the Ku Klux Klan in Fullerton in the 1920s, which his good friend Louis Plummer was a part of. I get the sense that Jencks is either embarrassed about these things, or has simply blocked them from his mind. Despite his silence, little hints of racism creep out here and there. This is a common feature of interviews like this.

One-armed African-American pitcher not pictured.

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