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. U.S. repeats as Solheim Cup champion

    Golf

    WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — Lexi Thompson set the tone by rallying from four holes down. The rest of the Americans took it from there and restored their dominance in the Solheim Cup

    Lexi Thompson, left, comes back from four holes down to halve the day’s first singles match with Europe’s Anna Nordqvist to set the tone for the United States.
  2. Rays see the Blake Snell they've been waiting for in win over Mariners

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — It was a one-run game Sunday when the Mariners' Robinson Cano singled with one out in the seventh inning, bringing the dangerous Nelson Cruz to the plate.

    Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell (4) throwing in the third inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017.
  3. Bucs journal: Demar Dotson (mild groin strain) expected back for opener

    Bucs

    TAMPA — The Bucs got good news Sunday on starting right tackle Demar Dotson, whose MRI exam showed only a mild right groin sprain and who should be back at practice next week.

    Tackle Demar Dotson has only a mild groin strain.
  4. Bucs counting on better health creating better pass rush

    Bucs

    TAMPA — Ask Bucs coaches about the improved depth and health of their defensive line, and they'll look around for a piece of wood to knock on.

    Retired All-Pro defensive end  Simeon Rice, right, the last Buc to have double-digit sacks in a season,  works with defensive end Ryan Russell, who last season was promoted from the practice squad for the second half of the year as injuries piled up. He is competing for a backup job this year.
  5. Rays journal: Jake Faria heads to DL with left abdominal strain

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — RHP Jacob Faria made the trek he didn't want to take after his last start. It was to the trainer's room. The pain in his left abdominal went from nagging to an issue during his start that night in Toronto.

    Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Jacob Faria (34) throwing in the first inning of the game between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Friday, August 4, 2017.