June 19, 1866, otherwise known as the first annual “Juneteenth” celebration.
After years of a war-torn America, Abraham Lincoln announced the end of slavery: a monumental moment for her liberty. Initially introduced in 1863, the act was not enforced in the South until June 19, 1865. On that day, Union Army Gordon Granger proclaimed that Black people were free.
Such historic moments would allow them to escape the horrors of inhumane servitude and pursue a fresh start for generations after. The following year, Juneteenth was born to commemorate this newfound freedom and has been an annual celebration since. Today, Juneteenth is widely celebrated across the country, so much so that President Biden has transformed it into a federal holiday. But it hasn’t always been merry.
April 15, 1947. This was not just another day in the life.
At the tender age of 28, Jackie Robinson stepped onto Ebbets Field in Brooklyn as the first African American player in Major League Baseball. It was then that the sport that had been segregated for over 50 years was broken. The color line had been crossed, but the finish line was still far out of vision’s reach.
Robinson’s career in the MLB was marked by astounding numerical statistics as well as a symbolic reverence. He was phenomenal on defense, astounding at bat, and developed tough skin as he faced a wide variety of discrimination. Not only was the Brooklyn Dodger able to achieve 137 home runs and a Hall of Fame introduction, but he was also able to do so under intense societal scrutiny and racial bias, both of which remained prevalent (and are still prevalent) for Black athletes long after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
Baseball, known as America’s past-time, was largely a non-diverse sport even after Robinson’s playing time. It took decades for colored peoples to find their place, establish relationships, and feel a strong sense of belonging.
But as the years flew by and civil rights became more prominent, more Black athletes played professional baseball. Among those players, two-sport star Michael Jordan played in the Minor League after his first retirement from the NBA. Jordan’s history with the sport would later play a large role in his brand’s investment towards its’ players.
June 19, 2021. Today marks the first celebration of Juneteenth across the Major League.
The MLB’s progression from segregated to inclusive has been remarkable. In the past, the MLB made strides to ensure a commitment towards their athletes, providing them a platform to voice their thoughts. Particularly, there has been a strong focus to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion among staff and players. Bringing their efforts full circle, today marks the first league-wide celebration of Juneteenth.
Taking notice of this momentous occasion, Jordan Brand has made game-time cleats for sponsored athletes to wear today. And boy, this is not an ordinary cleat. The cleat, a player exclusive designed to commemorate Juneteenth, was made with the input of former Cleveland Indian and New York Yankee CC Sabathia, LA Angel Dexter Fowler, and Seattle Mariner Kyle Lewis.
When creating the cleat, Sabathia described his urge to create a sneaker that popped; that was loud and could make a statement. As such, color pallets from the Pan-African and Juneteenth flags appear across the upper. Further detailing, including the “Lift Ev’Ry Voice” and “Til Victory Is Won” lyrics sewed onto the tongue, were added to represent both Black culture and Black athletes within Baseball. Juneteenth, the holiday that the veteran pitcher has celebrated since childhood, is commemorated on the tongue.
We chopped it up with CC to discuss Juneteenth and the cleat in further detail.
Nice Kicks: Juneteenth is a significant day for sneaker culture and the broader community, so I want to take some time to hear your story and your process designing this commemorative cleat.
CC Sabathia: it’s exciting to have an actual Juneteenth celebration. I think this might be the first on field celebration of Juneteenth. I grew up in Vallejo, California, where Juneteenth was always a big holiday for us. I think in the last five years, the states have kind of caught up, but for me as a kid, Juneteenth was always a big day; there was a big festival down at the waterfront and my whole community got together. So to be able to bring that to light in a shoe with Jordan brand is amazing and to have everybody really celebrate this holiday is fun. It’s a lot of fun; I’m excited for Saturday.
Nice Kicks: I’m curious how have you seen the progression of Juneteenth from your childhood all the way to now.
CC Sabathia: More people are celebrating. You know, as a kid, you don’t know any better. I’m growing up in Vallejo, I think everybody’s celebrating this holiday and for the last five to ten years, you hear some people not even understand what the holiday is about. But to have people recognize it and for it to be a national holiday now and for the MLB to embrace it and for it to be a celebration, I think it’s a really big deal. This is something that we talked about as the players and we’re trying to make a difference.
Nice Kicks: This is obviously a large moment in baseball with the on-field celebration. What was your thought process when figuring out how to celebrate this holiday through your cleat? Talk about the details like the song lyrics and what that means to you.
CC Sabathia: I think it means everything for us. Especially everything that’s going on in the last, two and a half years and trying to represent, especially in baseball and with black athletes in the game. Whenever we get a chance to represent and have a holiday celebration, you want to have something loud and something bold. So you know, those lyrics on the shoe just mean a lot to us.
Nice Kicks: Once people get the chance to see those small details on the shoe, I think people will see the story, the thought process, and the design process that went behind it.
CC Sabathia: Yeah, no doubt. And if you think about even the three guys that designed it, Kyle at the beginning of his career, Dex in the middle of being a superstar, and me at the end being retired, we all have different perspectives on the holiday, on the shoe, on MLB as a whole. So to be able to collaborate and do the shoe, that’s what makes Jordan so special.
Nice Kicks: Out of all the cleats you’ve got from Jordan brand, what does this one rank?
CC Sabathia: Because of the colors, I think I’m gonna have to rank it pretty high. I’ll be wearing on a golf course. Now for me, I wear golf shoes. Everything that they make for the guys, I get them. I’m pretty excited to rock on the golf course. These are number one.