Match Point Part IV
Article by Barry Kessler with Anita Kassof. Originally published in Generations – 2004: Recreation, Sports & Leisure. This particular issue of Generations proved wildly popular and is no longer available for purchase.
Sidebar 1: H.L. Mencken’s Last Column
Missed the beginning? Start Here.
In one of his final columns H.L. Mencken – considered by some both racist and anti-Semitic- surprised his readers with his comments on the continuing controversy over the tennis court protests. As a new student at the University of Maryland in the fall of 1948, Mitzi Freishtat Swan recalls that when the column appeared, she was subject to renewed derision from some of her fellow students, who mocked her for her involvement in the protests.
“When, on July 11 last, a gang of so-called Progressives, white and black, went to Druid Hill Park to stage an inter-racial tennis combat and were collared and jugged by the cops, it became instantly impossible for anyone to discuss the matter in a newspaper, save, of course, to report impartially the proceedings in court.
…But four months is a long while for journalists to keep silent on an important public matter, and if I bust out now it is simply and solely because I believe that the purpose of the rule has been sufficiently achieved. The accused have had their day in court, and no public clamor, whether pro or con, has corrupted the judicial process. Seven, it appears, have been adjudged guilty of conspiring to assemble unlawfully and fifteen others have been turned loose.
…But there remains an underlying question, and it deserves to be considered seriously and without any reference whatever to the cases lately at bar. It is this: Has the Park Board any right in law to forbid white and black citizens, if they are so inclined, to join in harmless games together on public playgrounds? Again: Is such a prohibition, even supposing that it is lawful, supported by anything to be found in common sense and common decency?
I do not undertake to answer the first question, for I am too ignorant of law, but my answer to the second is a loud and unequivocal No. A free citizen in a free state, it seems to me, has an inalienable right to play with whomsoever he will, so long as he does not disturb the general peace. If any other citizen, offended by the spectacle, makes a pother, then that other citizen, and not the man exercising his inalienable right, should be put down by the police.
Certainly it is astounding to find so much of the spirit of the Georgia Cracker surviving in the Free State, and under official auspices. The public parts are supported by the taxpayer, including the colored taxpayer, for the health and pleasure of the whole people. Why should cops be sent into them to separate those people, against their will, into separate herds? Why should the law set up distinctions and discriminations which the persons directly affected themselves reject?
…It is high time that all such relics of Ku Kluxery be wiped out in Maryland. The position of the colored people, since the political revolution of 1895, has been gradually improving in the State, and it has already reached a point surpassed by few other states. But there is still plenty of room for further advances, and it is irritating indeed to see one of them blocked by silly Dogberrys. The Park Board rule is irrational and nefarious. It should be got rid of forthwith.”
-“Mencken Calls Tennis Order Silly, Nefarious”, Baltimore Morning Sun, November 9, 1948.