Shuba’s gesture so much more than a handshake

Today, we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the handshake of Youngstown native George Shuba with Jackie Robinson, a defining moment in civil rights and a consequential addition to Mahoning Valley history.

Rookie first basemen Jackie Robinson debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers’ minor league affiliate Montreal Royals. He hit a three-run home run, and as he crossed home plate, Shuba instinctively raised his hand to congratulate him. The iconic scene will be captured in a statue of Shuba and Robinson in downtown Youngstown, to be dedicated in late summer.

George Shuba’s handshake was groundbreaking — the first interracial handshake in professional baseball.

Shuba was raised on Youngstown’s West Side, the youngest of 10 children. A devout Catholic, Shuba prayed Slovak prayers before meals into his old age. His father was a Slovak immigrant and steel worker.

George loved baseball and became a great professional player for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He earned the nickname ‘Shotgun Shuba’ when his line drives were compared to the sound of buckshot.

After retiring from the game, he settled in Austintown and married Kathyrn Forde. He attended St. Christine’s Church and is buried in Calvary Cemetery.

Born Jan. 31, 1919, in Georgia was Jack Roosevelt Robinson, son of a southern sharecropper, who abandoned his family when Jackie was an infant. Jackie’s mother moved the family to California, where Jackie discovered sports could bridge the racial divide. The Rev. Karl Downs, a black Methodist minister, became the father he never had, guiding him to Jesus and disciplines of Christianity — which served him later with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Robinson married nurse Rachel Isum two months before the handshake. She survives today at age 98. Robinson died young, but in his short 53 years, Jackie had a huge impact on numerous lives.

“The Handshake of the Century” statue between two holy men not only shattered the race barrier in sports, but also the religious barrier. As the Cathedral of Methodism in downtown Youngstown for over 218 years, Trinity United Methodist Church is excited about this event. The statue represents the church’s belief in dignity of all humans; thus, its placement is more than appropriate. However, the choice of the statue’s location has a deeper historical significance. The late Ken Schafer, then-executive director of Organization of Protestant Men, previously shared an 1864 letter written from his great-grandfather during the Civil War, describing another handshake, which took place on the Potomac River near Washington, D.C., among four Union soldiers, three white and one black — all from Youngstown. Authenticated by the late Columbiana Attorney Jim Wright, Civil War historian and author.

The black soldier, Archie Jones, lived above a Champion Street shoe store owned by Joseph Harber, an abolitionist and part of the Underground Railroad. The white soldiers served in the 29th Ohio Infantry, and Archie is believed to have been with the United States Colored Troops, USCT. The white soldiers were brothers, William Henry Darrow (who wrote the letter) and David Reuben Darrow, and their brother-in-law John Wesley Beede. He was the grandfather of famous YSU football coach Dike Beede.

When the three white soldiers saw the black soldier, they enthusiastically called out to him as they approached. John Wesley Beede was the son of a Methodist minister, named after the founder of Methodism, John Wesley. The descendants of all three white men attend Trinity United Methodist Church today.

April 18 holds further significance to the Mahoning Valley, the birthday of Clarence Darrow — cousin of the Darrow boys and world-renowned attorney raised in Kinsman and known for defending difficult cases often with racial overtones, including his successful defense of Dr. Ossian Sweet, a black physician whose family was accused of murder after shooting a white man who attacked his Detroit home after moving into a white neighborhood. Dr. Sweet and Darrow, both in tears, parted with a heartfelt handshake.

Judge Frank Murphy, who presided over the trial, once said, “Darrow is the most Christlike man I have ever known.”

Clarence always loved baseball. Darrow died eight years before the Shuba-Robinson handshake; however, remarkably like Robinson, he was a star first baseman.

For all these historic reasons, downtown Youngstown is most fitting for the Shuba-Robinson statue to be perfectly placed in front of Trinity UM Church on the site of a historic steel mill, important to George Shuba’s dad. Oak Hill Cemetery is in view across the Mahoning River. The historic downtown Underground Railroad site near the present YMCA location is within a few blocks, representing Youngstown’s early commitment to ending slavery.

Within walking distance of the statue, Trinity UM Church houses the Chapel of Friendly Bells. As its name alludes, this chapel welcomes all the bells and tones of God’s creation as an ecumenical atmosphere.

After graduating from South High School in 1921, Dike Beede received a football scholarship to Newberry College, South Carolina. After witnessing racial prejudice and segregation there, he transferred to Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh. Cincinnati Dr. Warren Webster said, “Dike was well known for his fair treatment of black players in sports during his active coaching career in Youngstown.”

Dike was inspired by the 1946 Shuba-Robinson handshake, a reflection of how he lived his life.

The statue represents bonding of all races of humans and religious groups, signifying love God has instilled in us. This is especially relevant in today’s climate of the ugly racial hatred.

In an ever-changing world, many may say Youngstown itself is in the bottom of the ninth, down by a run. Many say a community engulfed in violence and scared by poverty cannot shed its moniker as a “hotbed of violent thuggery.” However, this highly visible Shuba-Robinson statue will bring great pride to Youngstown. With this statue located in its heart, Youngstown will become a beacon for that love God has instilled in us to love one another. This statue will be the key hit that will resonate like a “Shotgun Shuba” sline drive through the ages and echo the voices of Clarence Darrow and Jackie Robinson. With the help of all our churches, synagogues, mosques and temples, we can become the shining city upon the hill, and in the future, the heavenly glow of Youngstown will be seen around the world.

Charles E. Wilkins, MD, of Youngstown, is a local physician, and his nephew, Richard Darrow Wilkins, of Youngstown, is a teacher in Warren. They are distant relatives of Clarence Darrow.



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