Q&A with History Detectives' Tukufu Zuberi

August 23, 2010
Tukufu Zuberi

On Friday, Inside Thirteen spoke with History Detectives host Tukufu Zuberi, who explained the significance of the Jackie Robinson scorecard featured in tonight’s episode, and the role it played in the integration of major league baseball.

Mr. Zuberi is a regular host on History Detectives, which explores historical mysteries to gain new insight into our national history.  A Professor of Sociology and an author, he specializes in African American history and American history.

IT: What makes this Jackie Robinson All Stars baseball scorecard more significant than other scorecards of that era?

TZ: The reason this scorecard is so important is this is the first group of players who played on an integrated team and in a major league park.  That had never happened before, so this is unique.

Black teams had played against white teams, but never an integrated team in a major league park.  The park is a big deal because people travel around just to visit these parks.

This was an effort to make money, but Satchel Paige was also on a tour and Paige sold out the stadium.  The audience was much smaller for the Jackie Robinson tour. Robinson didn’t earn a fraction of the money that Satchel Paige earned.  In fact he lost money on the tour.

Jackie Robinson was trying to see how American fans would react to an integrated team playing major league baseball.

IT: Was there anything that you were surprised to learn about Jackie Robinson, or baseball history in general, during this investigation?

TZ: One thing that really blew me out of my seat:  1944, Jackie Robinson got on a bus. He was in the military.  The driver on the bus said, “you have to move and give your seat to a white passenger.”  Jackie refused.  He was honorably discharged over this event.

Jackie Robinson was a champion for civil rights before he integrated major league baseball.  This was years before Rosa Parks took her stand.

IT: What has been your favorite History Detectives investigation thus far, and why?

TZ: I do not have one favorite story. I have many.

However, I will never forget the Ventriloquist’s Dummy, Sam.   The owner, Joan Maynard, wanted to know if this dummy that she kept in a box on a dusty old shelf in her kitchen was made by the same sculptor who made the dummy Charlie McCarthy.

I did a genealogy on the dummy. All the research was fabulous.  We did determine that the same artist made both dummies.

The most important part of the story, my favorite part of the story, was Joan Maynard.  She was a wonderful, giving person, full of a sense of life and being, and the life she had lived was full because she lived it happily.

Her fascination with history was contagious.  She was a custodian for African American history in New York.

We played her the voice of her father, whose name was John W. Cooper, from a performance. She had not heard his voice since 1960.  She did not know this recording existed.  And when we played it for her, she was overcome. It was a moment of recognition.  It was such an honor to share that with her.

Watch this episode tonight at 9 p.m. on THIRTEEN, and watch a preview.