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Moats: Two Great Americans

04/21/10 5:55PM By David Moats
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(Host) Commentator David Moats joins us today to discuss his own impressions of two men who are the subjects of a pair of  recent books.


(Moats) Two great Americans from the last century are the subjects of two new
biographies.

The two worked in different fields, but they had much in common.

And both were favorites of mine.

One was Louis Armstrong. The other was Willie Mays.

Each embodied total dedication to his work and each was brilliant in a
unique, personal way.

Both came out of the Deep South, poor boys who hit it big as young men.

Both had to live with the bigotry and segregation that prevailed at the
time, and they used the greatness of their accomplishments as the ultimate
answer to hate.

Louis Armstrong became a fixture in American culture later in his career
when he began to appear on television, but decades before he had already
been a pioneer in jazz.

His persona as an entertainer sometimes overshadowed his genius as a
trumpeter and singer.

But his clowning on the bandstand expressed the joyfulness and humor of his
personality, always shaded by the melancholy truth of the blues.

His music never evolved into the fast notes and progressive harmonies of
modern jazz, but his trumpet solos had a magnificent, perfect architecture.

His inventive singing, with his famous gravelly voice, showed great
musicianship and always contained a smile.

Willie Mays was a ballplayer who made people smile because of his flair and
intensity.

It is still argued whether or not he was the greatest player of all time.

I lived and died by his daily box scores.

I imitated his basket catch.

I watched his every move in the field and on the bases.

As Armstrong did, he brought greater intelligence to his work than anyone
else.

Both men were pioneers, but both were criticized in their time for refusing
to speak out about civil rights.

They each had their answer.

They were doing it in their own way.

They both felt the sting of bigotry, and in one famous instance, Armstrong
was quoted calling the governor of Arkansas an "uneducated plowboy."

The book on his life, called "Pops," reveals that his actual words were much
more colorful.

In his time, Willie was a peacemaker.

In a famous incident, Willie's teammate Juan Marichal clubbed the Dodger
catcher Johnny Roseboro with a bat, and Willie led the bleeding Roseboro to
the Dodger dugout, caring for his wounds.

As for the charge that the two of them were going slow on race, I was a
white kid in the suburbs, and they both touched me in a real way.

For me and for many others the idea that people like them, or anyone else,
should suffer the humiliations of racism seemed outrageous.

I saw Willie in one of his final games.

It was the World Series game in where he fell down in the outfield, his legs
giving out beneath him.

A knucklehead fan stood up next to me and shouted, berating the great Willie
Mays.

But as the great Louis Armstrong liked to sing, "when you're smiling, the
whole world smiles with you."

And both men made us smile.
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