They were instilled, in a graphic way, when Erskine’s father, Matt, took him to Marion, Ind., in 1930, the morning after a mob had stormed a jailhouse and hanged two Black prisoners. Matt Erskine wanted his son to see the effects of hate.
The sight of a bare tree branch and remnant of a noose has been seared in Carl Erskine’s consciousness ever since. In a state that once counted about 30 percent of the male population as dues-paying members of the Ku Klux Klan, Erskine grew up with a Black best friend, Johnny Wilson — a distinction, he said, that should earn him no special accolades.
“I lived in a mixed neighborhood and I knew a lot of outstanding Black families, hard-working families, and Johnny was a buddy,” Erskine said. “I ate at his house, he ate at my house, and we were just very, very close. I never noticed the color of the skin. It never played a part in our relationship. So it’s hard for me to take any credit for that, because it just came natural for me.”
On the top shelf of a cabinet in the Erskines’ living room is a figurine Wilson gave to his old pal: two boys — one Black, one white — on a bench in baseball uniforms. Tucked behind it is Wilson’s note: “Like when we were young.”
Wilson died in 2019. Roger Craig, the last Dodger besides Erskine who played in that 1955 World Series, died last month. Two of Erskine’s children, Gary and Susie, will represent him in Cooperstown, part of a sprawling family that includes five grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren, including a girl named Brooklyn.
Erskine’s name will be on permanent display at the Hall of Fame by the Buck O’Neil statue, just down a hallway and around the corner from the plaque gallery. That room honors the most hallowed Brooklyn names — Robinson, Campanella, Snider, Reese, Hodges and more — and, to Erskine, sends a subtle but powerful message he has spent his life promoting.
“There’s one key factor about the plaques around that room at the Hall of Fame,” Erskine said. “They’re all bronze. They’re all the same color.”