Fifty-two years ago, we were running a little short of umpires in the Powell Little League.
I had caused the problem by assisting previous umpires as they learned the strike zone and pondered the puzzle of whether my running Lions were out or safe at second base. The answer always seemed so obvious to me.
I solved the problem. I called Raleigh Wynn and invited him to dinner. Come early and umpire a couple of games. The going rate is $2 each.
Raleigh said OK.
Much later I learned that he had second thoughts. He worried about acceptance. The Powell community was lily white and Raleigh was still black at the time. He wondered if his appearance would cause some small degree of unrest. He wondered if he would be a distraction.
I had not looked at the occasion from that perspective. My only concern was having enough hamburgers for the grill. We had plenty of buns and two cans of baked beans.
I admired Raleigh Wynn. I knew him from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He was a director. He was probably the coach at Austin-East High School, or maybe the assistant principal. He was a large man who spoke softly and carried himself with dignity. I thought he commanded respect.
He had been a star athlete in his growing-up days. He was an outstanding college football lineman. He played some while in the military. The Battle of the Bulge was not fun ‘n games. He took a hit but kept on ticking. It was strange that he never said anything to me about the war or his football accomplishments – or himself.
Raleigh arrived at the Little League field three or four minutes ahead of starting time. I recall thinking his entrance took up the entire gateway.
Son Michael, 10-year-old second baseman, said, just above a whisper, “He’s big.”
I said, just above a whisper, “In more ways than you see.”
Nobody said anything about the integration of the Powell Little League. There were no arguments. There was no heckling from the bleachers. One parent, at the concession stand, paid 15 cents for Raleigh’s Pepsi between games.
Keep in mind, this was 52 years ago.
I do believe Raleigh Wynn was an awesome influence in his community and beyond. As a teacher and coach and church leader, he must have touched a thousand lives. Find the on-line guest book that followed his obituary. Read the comments. Raleigh was a giant.
Racial issues and Raleigh Wynn were not natural partners. He was a better man, a better umpire and a better example of love and wisdom than most of us. As at Powell so long ago, his color was incidental.
(Marvin West invites reader reaction. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org)