June 19th is a day of observance and reflection for most Americans known as Juneteenth, marking the end of slavery in 1865 on this date and the end of the Civil War two months earlier.
It is a day that was recently recognized as a federal holiday on June 17th, 2021 when President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law, 156 years later when slavery was officially ended.
For most African Americans, observing this day is a way to celebrate their ancestors whose shoulders we stand on for their great bravery, sacrifices, resilience, and faith.
One such person in history whose shoulders we stand on is that of Sam Lacy who changed how Americans perceived professional Black athletes as human beings, and who championed the rights and integrity of some of our greatest sports heroes at a time when freedom of speech was stifled at great peril to those who would demand it.
In today's society when we look at the Black pro athletes who are instant millionaires once they enter the pro game, it is hard to conceive that 75 years ago, segregation in professional sports was the standard until Jackie Robinson would play as the first Negro in Major League Baseball.
It would be Sam Lacy who would chronicle Robinson's journey and give voice to the narrative about the very real struggles, turmoil, and dangers that Robinson faced and the many other Black players who would follow.
Lacy himself would become the voice that helped to bring down the barriers of racial inequality on the field and in journalism. His contributions as a writer would win him many accolades and awards over a career that spanned some 70 years and that would lead to his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame and countless many other awards.
Sam Lacy died at the age of 99 in 2003 and so it is appropriate that we celebrate his life and legacy on this Juneteenth observance as the sports writer who honored our greatest athletes in an unprecedented time in our country's history.
I spoke with Lacy's son, Tim Lacy, recently about his father's life and legacy.
Q&A with Tim Lacy
Thank you, Tim, for taking the time to speak with me about your father, the late Sam Lacy whom I talked about at the beginning of this article as being a
trailblazing pioneer in sports journalism by reporting the correct narrative on
some sports greatest athletes, who were African American or of African descent.
Robert Walker) What are some of your fondest memories of Sam? Was he very much the family man dotting on you, or was he that dedicated sports reporter who was consumed with his work?
Tim Lacy) Yes, he was dedicated to his work; however, he always had time for family.
My fondest memories of dad were when I traveled with him to the different MLB baseball stadiums, he’d cover the game and do personal stories on special team members, and I’d get to meet the players. At the time there weren’t many Black players in MLB and we all became like family. When Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson and other major Black athletes were in town, they would stop by our house and mom would make them home cooked meals and they loved it. Like I said we became family and they always made a fuss over me, treating me like their kid brother, because they loved and respected my dad.
RW) What was the Lacy household like for you as a kid, and was Sam a gregarious
type of guy, or more subdued and introverted?
TL) We were a close-knit family, but dad was strict, I was expected to excel in school, both academically and in sports. I was also expected to help with family choirs and have a little after school job, mainly to teach me the value of money.
RW) Clearly Sam had a undeniable focus to stand up to the media establishment over how Negro athletes’ were treated and correcting the slanted narratives around their stories and accomplishments as pros. He did this in a very racially divided and
dangerous time in this country. Do you think Sam was ever concerned for his safety, or that of you all?
TL) Dad had no problem speaking out, or reporting about what he had to say and he wasn’t afraid to fight (verbally) for what he believed in. The MLB owners got use to my father and would promise to look into his complaints, however, as you would expect, they usually never did. Safety was never an issue with us in the family, but dad personally ran into some very uncomfortable situations, like the time the KKK burned a cross outside the rooming house where he and Jackie Robinson were staying, reminding them that they were not welcomed and it was best thing for their health if they would leave.
RW) Times are certainly different now for African American pro athletes who are multi-millionaires in our nation that is still divided over race and equality issues. What do you think Sam would have thought about these times?
TL) He would be very proud, dad was a very fair-minded person; he fought with the
team owners to be fair, but at the same time he would expect the same from the athlete, expecting them to be respectful and perform their best for the money they receive.
RW) Did Sam perform on “live” radio or live T.V?
TL) As a matter of fact - yes, he did both and each ended because of racial
discrimination. For two and a half years Sam worked as a radio announcer at a local radio station, WOL and WINX in Washington, D.C. Dad was doing sports along with the shows music and was the commercial salesman for the show. The show was doing very well until one of the sponsors found out that Sam was Black and with that pulled his sponsorship. One of the advertisers stuck with Dad, a small black-owned jewelry store, but it wasn’t enough to keep the show on the air and it finally shut down.
RW) I know that there is a campaign to have the life and times of your father become a film. How did this come about, and will it be based on the book “Fighting for Fairness: The Life Story of Hall of Fame Sportswriter Sam Lacy”?
TL) When my dad wrote the book, I was contacted by the books Publishing Company informing me that a film writer by the name of Lou La Rose of Camelot Communications Group would like to speak with me. Lou had secured the film rights to my dad’s book and after many backs and forth phone calls we became friends. Lou had read the book numerous times and then started picking my brain to fill in any of the blanks he needed. The book is the film's main source of information, but Lou conducted numerous interviews with me adding many personal stories that weren’t in the book and he also did a good amount of research. Camelot Communications Group is a New York Film Production Company.
RW) What do you see as your father’s legacy?
TL) Most of all, he was a gentleman. He fought for what he believed in at a time
when retribution could and would be harsh. When Jackie Robinson became the first
Black athlete to play in MLB, my dad was chosen to travel with him to report what
Jackie and the other Black players were really going through. This project turned into three seasons and one hell of a nightmare, giving my dad much more “up-close-and–personal” material to write and fight about.
RW) Is there a museum or online site where our readers can find Sam’s writings and any memorabilia on display, or is there something in the works where there may be a future exhibit?
TL) The Sam Lacy Exhibit at The Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.
and The Baseball Writers Wing at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.
RW) If Sam was here today and was asked to give the commencement speech for
young adults looking to pursue careers in journalism, what words of advice and
encouragement do you think he would share with them?
TL) Be fair and be honest. Make sure you do your research and report the story, as it really is, not the way you wish or would like it to be.
Thank you so much for this interview and time to remember Sam Lacy from your memories of him Tim. We’ll look forward to when the movie is released about his remarkable life and contributions.
Sam Lacy's Award Acceptance Speech
An accomplishment Sam Would Have Championed
Samuel Harold Lacy (October 23, 1903 – May 8, 2003) was an African-American and Native American sportswriter, reporter, columnist, editor, and television/radio commentator who worked in the sports journalism field for parts of nine decades.
Children: Samuel Howe (Tim) Lacy,
Michaelyn Lacy Harris
Education: Howard University
Occupation: Sportswriter, editor, TV/radio commentatorYears active: 1920–2003
Sam's Awards & Honors
In 1948, Lacy became one of the first black members of the
In 1984, Lacy became the first black journalist to be enshrined in the Maryland Media Hall of Fame.
In 1985, Lacy was inducted into the Black Athletes Hall of Fame in
In 1991, Lacy received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the
In 1994, Lacy was selected for the
In 1995, Lacy was in the first group of writers to be honored with the
In 1997, the 50th anniversary of Robinson's groundbreaking major league debut, Lacy received an honorary doctorate from
On October 22, 1997, Lacy received the J. G. Taylor Spink Award for outstanding baseball writing from the Baseball Writers' Association of America. The award carries induction to the writers and broadcasters wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and Lacy was formally enshrined on July 26, 1998.
In 1998, Lacy received the
In 2003, the Sports Task Force wing of the
Lacy also served on the President's Council on Physical Fitness and on the Baseball Hall of Fame's selection committee for the Negro leagues