Dr. Ben Carson
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
2019 HUD Black History Month Program Remarks
Washington, D.C., Brooke-Mondale, February 13, 2019
As prepared for delivery. The speaker may add or subtract comments during his presentation.
Thank you for that introduction, Michelle.
Hello everyone and thank you for joining us today as we celebrate Black History Month.
This program provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the struggles the African American community has faced. We should celebrate our achievements, especially considering the many barriers that were erected to limit our success.
As I think about overcoming challenges on the path to greatness, one name jumps out to me because of his recent passing - the famous baseball player Frank Robinson. The Hall of Fame player, manager, and executive set records, made history, and left his stamp on our nation's pastime. If you don't follow baseball, please allow me to enlighten you. Mr. Robinson is the only person ever, of any race, to win Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in both the National and American Leagues, and Manager of the Year honors. As if that wasn't enough, he was also the first black person to manage a Major League Baseball team.
The Baltimore Orioles are my favorite baseball team. Following their games provided me with a reprieve after long days in the operating room. It was the Orioles who introduced me to Frank Robinson and his tremendous athletic talents. During his career with the O's, Frank Robinson was named MVP, won a World Series, and then went on to win awards as the team's manager.
But, today I want to chart his career in the context of this year's National Black History Month theme-black migration.
During the mid-20th century, six-million African Americans, my mother included, left the rural South to find work and establish communities in the industrialized urban cores of the Northeast, Midwest, and West. These families who migrated from the South were fleeing segregation and seeking opportunity. In the South, they faced terrible discrimination and threats of death - all because they were black.
During this same time period, Frank Robinson, a black man from Oakland, California, was sent by the Cincinnati Reds to play in the Minor Leagues, which was located in the South. Even though he was on his way to becoming an accomplished ball player, Frank Robinson was denied access to hotels and restaurants while on the road with his teammates. And, especially fitting because of the work we do at HUD, later in his career Robinson was even denied the opportunity to buy a home due to the color of his skin. Throughout his career, he faced verbal abuse and physical threats from players and fans. Remember, another Robinson, Jackie, had just integrated into the Major Leagues a few years prior to Frank's introduction to the Minor Leagues.
While blacks were fleeing the South, Frank had to live and work there. He didn't have the ability to go North or back West. A determined--often described as ornery-person, Frank Robinson didn't wilt or shy away from the discrimination. In fact, it just motivated him to work harder towards success.
"Pitchers did me a favor when they knocked me down. It made me more determined. I wouldn't let that pitcher get me out," Robinson said after being intentionally hit with the ball during a game.
Because of his stature, the indignities he faced would become well known but it was his response to the injustice that made him legendary.
One particular incident in the winter of 1961, Robinson was eating at a restaurant when a stranger threatened to stab him with a knife. Prior to this confrontation, Robinson had received a number of death threats, so he always carried a gun with him for protection. In this instance, he showed the stranger the gun to scare him away. If he was white, that might have been the end of this story, but instead Robinson was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon and spent the night in jail.
Because of his talents with a bat and glove and his resolve, Robinson was not only able to overcome the barriers and hurdles placed in front of him, but he also was able to help shine a light on the indignities black Americans faced. He didn't march like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., or serve as a Cabinet Secretary like Robert Weaver, but by unapologetically being a great ballplayer he helped white Americans come to see black Americans as equals.
Robinson's platform was something most blacks did not have. Many African Americans from the South, like my mother Sonya, didn't have the ability to find dignified work or a public platform to change their reality, so they left their homes for the industrializing North. These men and women suffered and often the greener pastures they were seeking in the North weren't as green as they had imagined. Instead of finding true equality outside of the South, they were given low-paying, dangerous jobs, forced to live in ghettos, and denied housing.
Despite discrimination in the North, blacks who migrated survived because they banded together and supported each other.
I remember when my mother left my father after finding out he had another family. There she was--a single mother with barely a grade school education who now had to be the primary breadwinner and parent to two young black children. She had no family in Detroit, so she moved to Boston to live with my aunt. To this day, I don't know what would have happened to my family if my aunt didn't share the little she had with us.
My mother's journey from Georgia, to Tennessee, to Michigan, to Massachusetts, and back to Michigan was not covered in the media, like Frank's journey. Her migration North was one of six million anonymous data points in what is known as the Great Migration. Frank's migration went the opposite direction, but by achieving greatness and breaking barriers, his journey demonstrated to the nation the strength it took to be black in America-something many African Americans who made the journey North knew and something many white Americans did not understand.
The Great Migration left a lasting imprint on American life that is felt to this day. Frank Robinson left a lasting mark on baseball in America, and in the process, he also helped expose the realities of segregation.
Today, as we celebrate Black History Month, it's important to reflect on personal stories like Frank Robinson's. Unless we understand the reasons why six million Americans uprooted their lives, we will forever lack an understanding and appreciation for how far we have come in these United States of America.
Thank you, and God bless you.