From then on, the sight of a bare tree branch and the remnants of a noose burned into Carl Erskine’s consciousness. In a state that once counted about 30 percent of the male population as fee-paying members of the Ku Klux Klan, Erskine grew up with his best friend, Johnny Wilson—a distinction, he said, that should not have earned him any special accolades.
“I lived in a mixed neighborhood and knew a lot of notable black families, hard-working families, and Johnny was a friend,” Erskine said. “I ate at his house, and he ate at mine, and we were very, very close. I didn’t notice the color of the skin. It never played a part in our relationship. So it’s hard for me to give any credit for that, because it came so naturally to me.”
On the top shelf of a dresser in the Erskines’ living room is a statue Wilson gave to his old friend: two boys—one black, one white—on a bench in baseball uniforms. Hidden behind it is Wilson’s remark: “Just as we were young.”
Wilson passed away in 2019. Roger Craig, the last Dodger besides Erskine to play in the 1955 World Series, died last month. He will be represented in Cooperstown by two of Erskine’s sons, Gary and Susie, and is part of a sprawling family that includes five grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren Grandchildren, including a girl named Brooklyn.
Erskine’s name will be permanently displayed in the Hall of Fame alongside a statue of Buck O’Neill, down the concourse and close to the gallery of paintings. That room honors Brooklyn’s most revered names—Robinson, Campanella, Snyder, Reese, Hodges and more—and to Erskine, he sends a subtle but powerful message he’s spent his life promoting.
“There’s one major factor about the plaques around that room in the Hall of Fame,” Erskine said. “They are all bronze. They are all the same color.”