Jackie Robinson West & Black “Border-Jumping”

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By Elizabeth Todd-Breland
Black Youth Project
February 13, 2015

“I wanted to reach out to you to thank and encourage you to continue to speak out against border-jumping families.” This was the message delivered from a former Little League official to Chris Janes, the white Vice President of the Evergreen Park Athletic Association who accused Jackie Robinson West’s all-black Chicago youth baseball team of violating neighborhood boundary rules in route to winning the 2014 U.S. Little League World Series. Little League International stripped Jackie Robinson West of its title after an investigation, prompted by Janes’ allegations, found that players did not live within the necessary neighborhood boundaries to play for the team. The Little League official’s invocation of “border-jumping” was chilling.

In the U.S., border crossing summons powerful images of race, class, and repression, from deported Latino migrants who crossed into the U.S. in search of economic opportunity to African American parents jailed for forging addresses so their children can attend better-resourced schools. For those fluent in American history, white anxieties about black “border-jumping” are nothing new. However, the former Little League official’s reference to “border-jumping” is also grounded in a white middle-class suburban ideal that links the idea of community to property ownership and residence. This notion of community is different from the ideal of community that the black families of Jackie Robinson West created in a park on the far south side of Chicago. In one of the most segregated cities in the country, the borders between black and white Chicagoland have long been contentious and governed by racism. These borders also generated different types of communities.

Chicago has a long and well documented history of border-creation through segregation in housing and education. For decades government policies, contract mortgages, restrictive covenants, and racial redlining reinforced segregation and restricted black residents to specific areas on the south and west sides of the city. When these were ruled illegal, less formal geographic barriers including viaducts, highways, railroad lines, and parks continued to serve as convenient lines of racial neighborhood demarcation. For much of the 20th century, whites defended these borders and barriers to exclude black residents, at times violently. Despite this, during the latter half of the 20th century many white neighborhoods on the city’s south and west sides increasingly transitioned into predominantly black residential neighborhoods. This change was the result of duplicitous blockbusting practices and white flight to the suburbs, which was aided by federal subsidies. This history produced the predominantly black communities around Jackie Robinson West’s park on the far south side of the city.

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