As the 1950s arrived, more teams starting signing African-Americans. A turning point came when the great Jim Brown, from Syracuse, joined the Cleveland Browns in 1957. Brown’s domination on the field was so thorough that all questions about the skills of black players were erased—except in the nation’s capital, whose team, Marshall said, would “start signing Negroes when the Harlem Globetrotters start signing whites.”
Washingtonians, it must be said, did not simply let all this go unremarked. Redskins fans, then as now, were among the most passionate in the league, and many ardent supporters among both the Georgetown set and the hoi polloi urged Marshall to rethink matters. Their view was given its strongest expression by Shirley Povich, the star Washington Post sportswriter. Povich (a man—Shirley was a male name as often as it was a female name in the early twentieth century) was Jewish and a native of Maine who originally moved to Washington to study law at Georgetown. He often wrote sentences like “Jim Brown, born ineligible to play for the Redskins, integrated their end zone three times yesterday.” Marshall remained unmoved.
Also by Michael Tomasky: “Something New on the Mall.” The New York Review of Books, Oct. 22, 2009