Robinson-Shuba handshake statue unveiled in downtown Youngstown
Downtown Youngstown has a new attraction commemorating a monumental event in civil rights and baseball history.
An unveiling was held Saturday morning for the new Jackie Robinson-George "Shotgun" Shuba handshake statue.
The statue commemorates the 1946 handshake between Jackie Robinson, the first African-American Major League Baseball player, and George “Shotgun” Shuba, his white teammate from Youngstown.
The moment came on April 18th, 1946. In his first game for the minor-league Montreal Royals, Jackie Robinson crushed a three-run home run.
As Robinson approached home plate, Shuba extended his hand and greeted him.
"The first interracial handshake ever recorded," said Greg Gulas, Tri-chair of the Robinson-Shuba Statue Committee.
"We should remember that we're all on the same team," said Michael Shuba, George Shuba's son. "I keep rethinking back to all the time that I spent with my father on the road traveling across the country and talking to schools and organizations about doing the right thing, so this was a dream of mine and it's come true today," he said.
City officials say the statue shows that Youngstown natives can do anything.
"Youngstownians can be humble enough and dynamic enough to impact the entire world," said First Ward Councilman Julius Oliver. "Not only just in the world of baseball, but in the world of race relations," he said.
The man who sculpted it, Marc Mellon, tells 21 News he was emotional while creating the piece and that it was thrilling to be apart of it all.
"This sculpture is a symbol of what we can do. Just maintain the spirit, the right spirit," said Mellon. "People of good minds, of good hearts, coming together and celebrating each other's successes regardless of our backgrounds, of our color, our religion, it's the way America was meant to be," he said.
Co-chairman of the Robinson-Shuba statue committee, Ernie Brown, says this was beyond anything he could have imagined.
"We still have a long way to go, we've come a long way, but I think this statue will show generations to come that it is possible for the races to come together and just be as one," said Brown.
The handshake came during a racially charged era. Robinson was the first African-American man to play in Major League Baseball, a league that was all-white up until that time. Many of his teammates didn't like the idea of an African-American playing in the MLB.
Over the years, Robinson faced racist comments, heckling fans and even death threats.
Youngstown native Shuba didn't feel the same way as some of his teammates. Shuba grew up with people of different races and the handshake was not out of the ordinary for him.
"George did the right thing, he put his hand out, that's his teammate and George always said I didn't care if Jackie was in technicolor, he is my teammate," Gulas said.
"Shuba treated Jackie as if he was just another guy but it was a guy who hit a home run and he didn't care if he was black, he just cared that he was there to help them win," said Ernie Brown, Tri-Chair of the Robinson-Shuba Statue Committee.
During an interview with 21 Sports in 2006, Shuba described the moment.
"I was batting third and I went up to shake his hand and I had no problem with that because as a team we are focused professionally, focused to beat the other team and Jackie was an outstanding player, was the best player on our club," Shuba said.
What was a simple handshake between the two men became a monumental moment for baseball and the country.
The photo of the handshake was featured in newspapers across the country and became known as the "Handshake For The Century."
Now, the "Handshake For The Century" has been immortalized for years to come with a seven-foot-tall bronze in Wean Park between the Covelli Centre and Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre.
Those involved with the project hope the statue inspires better relations among people of different racial backgrounds.