Parrott, who died in 1987, wrote in his 1976 memoir that as a Phillies official Pennock called Rickey to demand that Robinson not be brought with the team to Philadelphia's Shibe Park, where the Phillies played. "[J]ust can't bring the n----- here with the rest of your team," Parrott quoted Pennock as saying. "We're just not ready for that sort of thing yet. We won't be able to take the field against your Brooklyn team if that boy Robinson is in uniform." Parrott said that he was listening to the conversation on an extension phone at Rickey's instruction.
Rickey refused to leave Robinson behind, and he played the game in Philadelphia. Parrott recalled the black player being heckled by Phillies players and management "with racial venom and dugout filth" unlike any he had ever heard in baseball. Parrott also noted that Pennock overheard the taunts and did nothing to stop the "verbal lynching" of Robinson.
At Burton's Barber Shop here, talk of home runs and pennants is displaced by a stout defense of Pennock's reputation. The shop is ground zero for the town's love affair with him. The side and back walls are crammed with memorabilia, paying homage to Kennett Square's link with baseball immortality. One photo shows Pennock as a schoolboy in his Cedarcroft Academy uniform, another in his Yankee pinstripes. And, perhaps, the most revered picture of all shows a retired Pennock wearing foxhunt tweeds and standing beside Babe Ruth, a guest at his Kennock Square farm.
Stout Defense of Pennock
"I've heard people talk about Herb Pennock in here for 43 years and never heard that kind of talk," said Bob Burton, 61, a third-generation barber and owner of the shop. He pointed to a fuzzy black-and-white image on the wall. "That's my grandfather, Amos, who played with Herb Pennock. My grandfather opened Burton's Barber Shop on State Street in 1892. . . .
"You'd think down through all the years, of all the baseball talk that's gone on in this barber shop, just once someone would have mentioned Herb Pennock saying something like that about Jackie Robinson," Burton fumed. "Not once. No. Never."
Burton said that he is sickened by media accounts that paint Pennock as a racist. "Herb Pennock wasn't that kind of guy. He was a Quaker and he didn't use that kind of language."
Critics of the proposed statue tend to come from Kennett Square's black community. Most say that they have nothing against Pennock but want the full measure of his character revealed if the town is going to erect a statue in his honor. Far from picketing or raising their voices in anger, folks in town are treating the controversy more like neighborly gossip passed along a community grapevine.
By most accounts, Mabel Thompson, a longtime community leader and outspoken activist among African Americans, is the person who set the controversy in motion. Just as the Historical Commission began soliciting an estimated $100,000 to pay a sculptor, Thompson called media attention to a 1997 newspaper clipping that quoted Parrott's book on Pennock's comments about Robinson.
"Of course, I had feelings about that because I'm a black person, and any black person would feel strongly about Robinson being called a n-----," she said. "If it's true [that Pennock said it] . . . we should know about it if we're going to erect a statue."
Concerned About Future Generations
Thompson said that she does not really care if the statue is built. "I don't think it's going to make that much of a difference in the black community one way or another," she said. "But what I want to do is find out the truth. I'm interested in what it means [to honor Pennock] for generations to come."
Chris Barber, the Kennett Square reporter for the Daily Local News based in neighboring West Chester, said that Thompson brought the issue to her attention. "The town was already on fire when I wrote my story," she said. "People were angry and irritated that this was coming out at this time."
Driving a visitor around town, Barber pointed out indicators of change in Kennett Square. The town's central business district has seven upscale restaurants but the five-and-dime store is a memory. The new, red-brick Genesis Health Ventures building employs white-collar workers. An Italian-owned restaurant ran afoul of an Architectural Review Board because the owner's plan to put arches in his window was not in keeping with the town decor.
And, growing numbers of Mexican immigrants are squeezed into low-rent apartments on the edge of town. Mostly manual laborers in the area's mushroom farms and packing plants, they are beginning to add a bit of Latino culture to the town's character.