“Standing before a packed, rapt congregation at St. Luke’s Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. recognized the moment’s weight and its fragility.
The date was May 6, 1963. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference were five weeks into a direct-action campaign to fight Birmingham’s segregation system with mass meetings, sit-ins, marches and boycotts. Over the course of that campaign, thousands had been arrested, including King himself. Children had joined the demonstrations and been clubbed by law enforcement and blasted by high-pressure firehoses.
It was an uneasy, unsteady, unprecedented juncture in American history. And with so many eyes upon him, King sought to remind anybody bowing to the pain of change that the hardship would be well worth it.
“The thing that we are challenged to do,” King said that night, “is to keep this movement moving. There is power in unity, and there is power in numbers.”
Major League Baseball’s Black players felt a modicum of that power in 2020. In a nation struck by a raging virus and facing a racial reckoning, they coordinated, they demonstrated, they affected change. They became part of a movement that united athletes around the world. And in so doing, they betrayed an outdated clubhouse code and a generally conservative baseball culture to make their voices heard.
By year’s end, through a newly organized nonprofit called The Players Alliance, Black players past and present have been doing their part to impact communities disproportionately ravaged by the pandemic and to bring wider awareness to the United States’ unresolved, systemic injustices.
“Times are changing,” Dodgers pitcher David Price said at a recent “Pull Up Neighbor” tour stop for The Players Alliance. “And that’s good. We need to be able to use our voice, use our platform.”