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. Charlie Strong, Gulf High and the best (old) Jon Gruden-Tennessee rumor

    Blogs

    As Butch Jones keeps losing, Tennessee Vols fans are turning to one of the media's favorite pastimes.

    Jon Gruden coaching rumors.

  2. Lightning edges Red Wings on road

    Lightning Strikes

    DETROIT — The digs were different, the Lightning seeing the masterfully-done new Little Caesar's Arena for the first time.

    Lightning center/Red Wings’ killer Tyler Johnson gets past defenseman Trevor Daley on his way to the first goal of the game.
  3. Armwood pulls away to defeat Plant 27-7, remain undefeated

    Footballpreps

    SEFFNER — First-year Armwood coach Evan Davis pulled out all the stops to get his team psyched for Monday's annual grudge match against Plant.

    Armwood defensive end Malcolm Lamar (97) gets fired up before the start of the game between Plant High School Panthers and the Armwood High School Hawks in Suffer, Fla. on Monday, Oct. 16, 2017.
  4. Bucs journal: Dirk Koetter says Vernon Hargreaves needs to improve

    Bucs

    TAMPA — The Bucs now rank 31st in the NFL in pass defense, allowing 301 yards per game in their 2-3 start, and coach Dirk Koetter was asked Monday how concerned he is with the play of second-year CB Vernon Hargreaves.

    Ryan Fitzpatrick, throwing an incompletion under pressure after replacing injured Jameis Winston against the Cardinals,  would start this Sunday in Buffalo if Winston’s shoulder is still bothering him.
  5. Backhand shot makes Nikita Kucherov's offense even more dangerous

    Lightning Strikes

    DETROIT — Nikita Kucherov is on a historic streak, just the fourth player in the past 30 years to score a goal in each of his first six games.

    Nikita Kucherov’s backhand shot adds to his strong scoring.