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Reggie Jackson says racism he experienced playing in Birmingham made his return for Negro Leagues tribute ‘not easy’

By Dalia Faheid and Elizabeth Wolfe, CNN

(CNN) — Baseball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson said it was difficult to return to Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama, for the Negro Leagues tribute game Thursday because of the onslaught of racism he experienced when he played there decades ago.

In 1967, before he climbed up to the majors, Jackson played with the Birmingham A’s in the Double-A Southern League as one of the few Black players on the team. The team played at Rickwood Field.

The baseball legend, who was part of Fox’s broadcast crew for Thursday’s game, said during the broadcast that his return to the place where his baseball career kicked off was “not easy.”

“The racism when I played here, the difficulty of going through different places where we traveled,” Jackson said on the Fox broadcast. “Fortunately I had a manager and I had players on the team that helped me get through it, but I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.”

He said he would never want to relive that part of his life.

“I walked into restaurants and they would point at me and say ‘a n***er can’t eat here.’ I would go to a hotel and they would say, ‘a n***er can’t stay here,’” he said.

One violent incident that happened in 1980, when Jackson was a player with the Yankees. A few hours after a victorious game, a man fired his gun at Jackson over a parking space dispute on a New York street. Jackson was looking for a parking space when a car blocked his way. When Jackson asked the driver to move, a passenger in the car yelled racial slurs at Jackson and threw a broken bottle at Jackson’s car. A man in the car then fired three shots at Jackson, each of which missed. News of the incident was one of the first stories broadcast on CNN during its inaugural broadcast.

The baseball legend was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993. In 21 big league seasons – including with the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels – Jackson finished with 563 home runs.

Jackson was named the World Series MVP in 1973 and 1977. During the 1977 World Series, he hit three home runs on three pitches, earning him the nickname “Mr. October.” Jackson was a 14-time American League All-Star, a member of five World Series championship teams and a winner of the American League MVP Award in 1973.

Thursday’s MLB game came three days after legendary Hall of Famer Willie Mays died at age 93. Mays played for the Birmingham Black Barons, a Negro League baseball team that called Rickwood Field home until their last season in 1963.

The game between the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals both paid tribute to the Negro Leagues and honored Mays’s legacy. Approximately 60 Negro League players were in attendance – marking the largest official gathering of the league’s players in nearly 30 years, according to the MLB.

Jackson said he admired Mays because he taught players who came after him how to play by watching how he approached the game. Jackson said, however, “they grew up in an era when if you had a complaint about the game or a complaint about society – you suppressed it. Today’s player doesn’t do that.”

“The way that he showed the love of the game, the way he respected the game – even when he had a complaint about what may have been going on about minorities or whatever,” Jackson said on the Fox broadcast. “In his era … you didn’t speak about it. He loved the game so much that he refrained.”

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