Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Jackie Robinson's example proved a beacon for pioneering Tampa attorney

As a teen, Delano S. Stewart woke every morning to check the newspaper.

He longed to know how his favorite player fared in the game the night before, but he noted every hit and stolen base recorded by that player as more than statistical footnotes.

If Jackie Robinson went 2-for-3 during the late 1940s and 1950s, it did more than help the Brooklyn Dodgers win on the diamond. Stewart says Robinson's success served as a beacon for every black person during that time.

"It was the infusion of hope to keep the light of our ideals burning," said Stewart, who went on to become one of Tampa's most prominent attorneys. "When we had so little, every person who was black and who achieved things instilled in you hope.

"I never intended to play baseball, but it was a black man excelling in a sport they didn't want him in. That was very inspirational to me."

Stewart, who broke multiple barriers during his 50 years of service in the law, will be honored with other community heroes and institutions at Friday night's Rays game when the team celebrates Robinson's legacy on "Breaking Barriers" night.

Along with St. Petersburg deputy mayor Kanika Tomalin, Stewart, 81, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

But it won't be the first time Robinson's aura has drawn Stewart to a ballpark.

In 1950, Stewart and his family took a summer vacation, visiting Luray Caverns in Virginia and Niagara Falls in New York. On the return trip home, they stopped in Harlem to stay with a relative. Stewart, only 15, took it upon himself to hop a subway train to Brooklyn.

He had to see Robinson play at Ebbets Field.

"It was a triumphant moment to get on that subway," Stewart said. "I was a Southern boy, but I didn't have enough sense to be frightened. I was propelled by my desire to see him.

"Then, I was nervy enough, or foolish enough, to go and talk to him and get his autograph after the game."

Stewart said that day and that moment — like the March on Washington, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that he attended in 1963 — are "inscribed on the marrow of my bones with arrows and directions."

Those directions served him well in the years to come. After earning his law degree from Howard University, Stewart returned to Tampa to prepare for the bar, but vestiges of racism struck twice.

A bar review course refused to admit him because he was black, so he sat on a nearby stairwell, in earshot of the class, and took notes on the lecture.

In another moment, when he and his four bar studymates, all white, went for coffee, the white server gave him coffee in a foam cup while providing coffee for the others in glasses. For a second, he grew angry at the indignation and thought about throwing the coffee on the server and jumping across the counter. Instead, he turned and exited the diner, preserving his opportunity to become a lawyer.

Robinson's example of persevering through taunts and indignities were never far from his mind.

"He showed me if you've got talent and ability, there are people who are going to try to thwart you, but your strength and ability will hurl you past whatever those obstacles are," Stewart said. "That's what he meant to all of us."

Stewart went on to become Hillsborough County's first black public defender, notching one of many firsts during his pioneering legal career. He's looking forward to throwing out the first pitch because, as he notes, thanks to Robinson, we're still in the game.

That's all I'm saying.

. IF YOU GO

'Breaking Barriers'

The Rays salute Jackie Robinson on Friday with a series of special commemorations that begin at 6 p.m. at Tropicana Field. Highlights will include nine "community champions" honored for representing Robinson's nine core values, the St. Joseph's Children's Choir singing America the Beautiful and saxophone star B.K. Jackson performing the national anthem.

Jackie Robinson's example proved a beacon for pioneering Tampa attorney 04/18/17 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 19, 2017 12:31am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Alex Faedo, Florida advance to face LSU in College World Series finals

    College

    OMAHA, Neb. — Alex Faedo pitched three-hit ball for 71/3 innings in a second straight strong performance against TCU, and Florida moved to the College World Series finals with a 3-0 win Saturday night.

    Florida’s Austin Langworthy scores on a single by Mike Rivera in the second inning during a 3-0 victory over TCU.
  2. Jones: Bucs need success to get national respect

    Bucs

    Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones offers up his Two Cents on the world of sports.

    No respect

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter walks the field during the second day of mandatory minicamp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  3. Rays journal: Jumbo Diaz falters after getting within a strike of ending rally

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Saturday's game got away starting with a leadoff walk in the seventh inning by Rays LHP Jose Alvarado, who was brought in exclusively to face Baltimore's lefty-swinging Seth Smith.

    Rays reliever Jumbo Diaz wipes his face as he walks off the mound after the Orioles score four during the seventh inning to give them a 7-3 lead. Diaz was one strike away from working out of the jam before he allowed a two-run double and a two-run homer on back-to-back pitches.
  4. Rookie Jake Faria dissatisfied with performance in Rays' loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The rookie pitcher walked to his locker Saturday after tossing the fourth quality start in as many tries to begin his career. He held the potent Orioles bats to three runs and for six innings gave his team a chance to win.

    Orioles third baseman Manny Machado tags out the Rays’ Mallex Smith at third after a rundown in the first inning.
  5. Roger Mooney's takeaways from Saturday's Rays-Orioles game

    The Heater

    It was refreshing to see RHP Jacob Faria take the blame after the loss even though he gave the Rays a chance to win. Too often young pitchers are encouraged by what they did and not necessarily the outcome, but Faria, making just his fourth big-league start, came to the Trop to win, didn't, and pointed the finger …