Original articles by academic faculty, librarians and other researchers.


In this issue: the seminal inking of an African American baseball legend, Apartheid-era doctors under fire for neglect, and the unexplained loss of a literary luminary.

The Robinson Interregnum: The Black Press Responds to the Signing of Jackie Robinson, October 23, 1945-March 1, 1946

 

 

There is little about the life of Jackie Robinson that historians do not know. Each part of his saga has been analyzed time and again. Among the periods sometimes given short shrift, however, is the time between the seminal event of his signing with the Montreal Royals, AAA farm team of Branch Rickey’s Brooklyn Dodgers, in October 1945 and his arrival in Sanford, Florida, for his first spring training in an unapologetically racist South.

Such is not to say that the period has not also received its chronicle. Jules Tygiel’s Baseball’s Great Experiment is the most substantial account of the sport’s integration, and Tygiel does recount Robinson’s time during the interregnum. So too does David Falkner in his Robinson biography Great Time Coming and Chris Lamb in his account of Robinson’s first spring training. [1] Each of those accounts uses major black weeklies to create a picture of Robinson’s actions and the black response, but looking at smaller black weeklies, less trumpeted than the Pittsburgh Courier and Chicago Defender, a more nuanced picture of that response helps color the solid scholarship that already exists.

The Robinson Interregnum: The Black Press Responds to the Signing of Jackie Robinson, October 23, 1945-March 1, 1946


Medicine on the Rand: The Biko Doctors and South Africa’s Sharp Dissection

The Johannesburg-based Rand Daily Mail’s September 15, 1977, edition contains a striking amalgamation of headlines on page 2: “Kruger Lays Down His Own Condition,” outlining South African Minister of Justice Jimmy Kruger’s attempt to convince anti-apartheid activists that white South Africans deserved most credit for the country’s economic and political development; “SA Faces UN Fury” and “Why UK Is Reluctant on Sanctions,” juxtaposing two divergent international opinions toward redressing the country’s infamous racial policies; “World Shocked at Biko Death;” and “Ex-Policeman Gets Twin Heart,” sharing the story of the world’s seventeenth heart-transplant recipient.  While these may, at first glance, seem a tad disjointed, they reveal the beginnings of a larger thematic story—that of a national medical profession grappling with a new spotlight and its own responsibilities within an oppressive state system.

On December 3, 1967, Louis Washansky received a new heart.  The world’s first successful transplant took place at Groote Schuur Hospital, adjacent to the University of Cape Town’s medical campus.  After a heated, multi-country race to perform such a procedure, news of the operation catapulted its chief of surgery, Christiaan Barnard, into international celebrity.  Media such as the Rand Daily Mail would report on Washansky’s progress (he died just eighteen days after receiving Denise Darvall’s heart) and future transplants, both in South Africa and abroad.

Medicine on the Rand: The Biko Doctors and South Africa’s Sharp Dissection


The Lost Prince of American Bohemians: The Strange Life and Mysterious Death of Ralph Keeler, Literary Vagabond

Ralph Keeler is the most extraordinary American that you’ve never heard of—a performer, traveler and writer who blazed a trail through the heart of literary scene on both sides of the continent in the decade after the Civil War. His astonishing adventures—and, particularly, his equally enigmatic end—can be traced through the pages of America’s Historical Newspapers.

 

A potted biography can hardly do justice to the vicissitudes of Keeler’s short life: as a runaway child, Keeler became part of a minstrel troupe that travelled around the country, including a stint along the Mississippi River in a showboat. Leaving that life behind to pursue an education, he made his way to Europe where he enrolled as a student at Heidelberg University. Returning to America after the Civil War, he gravitated to San Francisco—at that moment, the capital of Bohemian life in the newly reunited nation. It was an apt choice: Keeler’s flamboyant personal style soon captured the attention of the city’s literati, and he became friends with writers like Mark Twain, Bret Harte and Charles Warren Stoddard. At first he worked as a teacher: notice of his address to the “The State Teachers’ Institute,” in his role as “Principal of the Foreign Evening School,” appeared in the Weekly Alta-California, the city’s leading newspaper, in May 1867.

The Lost Prince of American Bohemians: The Strange Life and Mysterious Death of Ralph Keeler, Literary Vagabond


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