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With racial inclusion, we all win

Melvin B. Miller

Is the primary purpose of Black History Month to provide an opportunity to applaud the achievements of black heroes, or does it stand for more than that? Is it also appropriate to extoll the benefits of the successful elimination of racial discrimination in historically significant events? The answer to that question will determine whether the Boston Police Department’s recognition of Red Auerbach’s non-racial policy for the Boston Celtics complies with Black History Month protocol.

Those old enough can remember the social impact when Jackie Robinson broke the Major League Baseball color barrier in 1947. Branch Rickey signed Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the rest is history. Red Auerbach, who was the coach and then the general manager of the Boston Celtics, broke the racial barrier in the National Basketball Association. He was the first NBA coach to draft a black player and field an all-black starting five. Later, as Celtics general manager, he was the first in the league to hire a black coach — Bill Russell.

Boston is a major sports town. It seems natural for the Boston Police Department, or others, to turn to sports in recognition of Black History Month, and one of the most dramatic stories to tell is how Red Auerbach changed the nature of the NBA. A number of black athletes became national stars because of Auerbach’s courage to build championship Celtics teams based on the talents of the players without consideration of their race.

The record of black history cannot be distorted by avoiding the definitive involvement of white citizens. Our objective is for whites to tell the truth about the past. February is more than a month of historic cheerleading.