During a recent visit to the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Mississippi, I found two baseball references. The first was to Jackie Robinson, as one might expect. An exhibit outlining the timeline of civil rights events noted that against the backdrop of segregation and the Cold War, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, “enduring racial tension in the clubhouse and jeers from fans.”
The other reference was on a display about speakers and performers refusing to go to segregated events in Mississippi. One such speaker: Stan Musial. Naturally, I needed to learn more.
On February 26, 1963, after his retirement from baseball, Musial was appointed the director of President’s Committee on Physical Fitness by President Lyndon B. Johnson. A year later, as part of his new duties, Musial was scheduled to speak at the Touchdown Club of Jackson, MS, on February 24, 1964. However, around the same time civil rights groups, including the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) had been writing to artists asking them to cancel Mississippi performances scheduled for segregated audiences. In 1964, SNCC’s Chairman at the time (and current U.S. Congressman), John Lewis, asked Musial not to make his scheduled appearance at the all-white Touchdown Club’s Hall of Fame dinner. Musial subsequently canceled the appearance, though made no mention of SNCC or Lewis’ request when he contacted the club.