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Comment: The AFRO at 130: a look back at Sam Lacy’s legacy

By Ralph E. Moore, Jr.,
Special at AFRO

As early as 1944, the great Sam Lacy was sports editor for the AFRO American Journal. Mr. Lacy not only wrote the story, he has been the story.

He was there to see greatness in sports — especially great African-American feats — and he advocated for fair representation in sports, calling for black inclusion.

Sam Lacy made history in 1998, when he became the first African-American journalist inducted into the Baseball Writers Association of America. The association was housed in a wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY

AFRO sports coverage from 1940 includes Sam Lacy’s call for baseball integration and proper compensation for black players. (Photo from AFRO Archives)

In a happy coincidence, Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson to a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers Farm team on Lacy’s 42n/a birthday.

Lacy kept us all updated on what was happening with Robinson’s career. As Robinson was given racial epithets on the pitch he was on, Lacy was mocked and ridiculed in the press box for being black too.

But Lacy continued, reporting details of Robinson’s time on the baseball field and Jesse Owens’ Olympics conquest in Germany in 1936. Lacy also covered boxers, including the great Joe Louis.

Neither Hitler’s hatred abroad at the Olympics nor racist slurs from fans in the baseball stadium bleachers at home deterred Lacy from being there or telling the whole story to readers or listeners of the radio. Later he covered heavyweight fighters Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali.

But who was the amazing man known as Samuel Harold Lacy?

He was born in Mystic, Connecticut on October 23, 1903. His father, Samuel Erskine Lacy was African American, his mother, Rose Lacy was a Native American woman from the Shinnecock tribe.

When Junior Sam was young, the family moved to Washington, D.C., where his father introduced him to the love of baseball. Young Sam spent years hanging out at the nation’s capital baseball stadium.

Sam Lacy went to Armstrong High School in northwest Washington, DC There he played all three major sports: baseball, football and basketball. After graduating, he attended Howard University where he majored in physical education and intended to become an athletic trainer.

But as fate would have it, in the 1920s Lacy got a gig writing about sports for a black newspaper, The Washington Stand. The part-time job would lead to a revolutionary career in journalism that would be his life’s work. In the 1930s, some of his first pieces for the AFRO began to appear. Lacy was already familiar with the publication, as it covered games where he served as a referee.

After a position as a sports editor at Chicago DefenderLacy took over the role of sportswriter for the Baltimore AFRO American from 1943 to 2003. He did sports commentary between 1968 and 1978 on WBAL TV. Lacy was also on radio in Baltimore and DC

The courageous journalist did his job despite violent threats and hate speech from those who opposed the integration of their beloved sports teams.

Mr. Lacy was known for his intelligence and bravery.

Sam Lacy was AFRO’s sports editor for six decades. (Photo from AFRO Archives)

He was inducted into the Maryland Media Hall of Fame in 1984 and the Black Athletes Hall of Fame in 1985. He also received the JG Taylor Spinks Award in 1997 and the Associated Press Red Smith Award in 1998.

Lacy was well aware of baseball’s great talent in the Negro leagues: pitcher, Satchel Paige; center fielder Cool Papa Bell and power hitter and receiver Joshua Gibson.

He used his knowledge and belief in their raw talent to champion and champion racial integration in Major League Baseball. He was the primary agent of racial change in baseball and other sports by extension.

Lacy met with owners, including those on a committee with Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and wrote continuously about baseball’s racial integration from his base at AFRO American Journal. At one point the AFRO allowed Lacy to exclusively cover Jackie Robinson, which he did for three years. And the rest is history.

Over the years, Lacy has achieved legendary status for his sports writing and editing. The famous Sports Illustrated magazine tried to hire him away from the AFRO American newspaper in 1950, but he refused SI. “No other newspaper in the country would have given me some kind of license. I made my own decisions. I cover whatever I want,” he said of the AFRO.

Mr. Sam Lacy worked at AFRO for 60 years – practically until the day he died at age 99 on May 3, 2003.

In his later years, he would arrive at the office in the wee hours of the morning and work until the job was done, writing his chronicles by hand on notepads.

Lacy married Alberta Robinson in 1927. They had one son, Samuel Tim Lacy, who worked at AFRO for a few years and a daughter, Michaelyn (Lacy) Harris. Sam Lacy divorced in 1952 and remarried Barbara Robinson in 1953, who died in 1969.

Lacy was a legend, an agent of change and a role model for journalists, athletes and sportswriters around the world. Sam Lacy made a big difference in the world of sports and, more importantly, he helped change American society for the better for all.

Sam Lacy.

Say his name and remember his deeds.

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