Following up on her interview with Henry Jacobs, Brianna Hopkins was thinking about the stories he asked her to write about how talent was discovered and nurtured. Henry had also asked her to reflect on what she learned from each story about talent. Her first story was on Wendell Smith.
Wendell Smith grew up in Detroit as the son of Henry Ford’s personal chef. He was a very talented baseball player and played college ball at West Virginia State College. He had hoped to have a professional career, but the major leagues were not allowing African American players to contracts. He decided to pursue a career as a sports writer and use this as a forum to advocate for the integration of baseball.
He took a job with the Pittsburgh Courier, the nation’s largest newspaper for African Americans. The Courier encouraged civil rights advocacy among all of its writers. Wendell did a story on the willingness of baseball players and the managers to accept African Americans. He found that over 75% of those interviewed were accepting of the integration of teams, but the ownership was not courageous enough to integrate baseball.
Wendell used his talent as a journalist to help setup tryouts for African American players with several major league teams. But none of the teams were ready to sign African Americans. Then Wendell met with the Branch Rickey, General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers to encourage him to sign Jackie Robinson to a contract. After scouting and face-to-face meetings, Jackie Robinson was signed to a contract and assigned to a triple-A farm team. Rickey hired Smith to travel with Jackie Robinson as a supporter. Jackie Robinson went on to become one of the greatest players in baseball history.
Wendell then used his talent to bust other barriers for African Americans in baseball including the integration of spring training facilities. Wendell became the first African American to write about sports for a white newspaper. He was the first African American on the Baseball Writers Association of America. When the Baseball Hall of Fame created a committee to induct players from Negro Leagues, Wendell was one of only two members selected who were not affiliated directly as players or managers.
As Brianna reflected on the story of Wendell Smith’s talent, she began to realize that talent denied can often be a stimulus for a greater use of one’s talent. Wendell Smith’s talent as a journalist had far more impact than the impact he might have had as a baseball player. She also reflected on the role that one’s mindset had on how one’s talent is discovered and developed. The rejection of African Americans by the baseball establishment could have led Wendell to a life of grievance and resentment. Instead, he used the rejection as motivation to develop a new talent to open opportunities for others.
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“A life isn’t significant except for its impact on others’ lives.”
– Jackie Robinson