The grave marking effort soldiers onward

Courtesy Jeremy Krock

For the next couple posts I want to give an update on the status of the various efforts of the Negro League Baseball Grave Marker Project. In addition to the sterling projects recently wrapped up by the NLBGMP (some of which I’ll discuss further down), right now, according to Dr. Krock and Larry Lester, there’s only a couple currently in the pipeline.

One of those is Billy Francis, a third baseman/manager from the deadball era/early 20th century who starred for influential teams like the Philadelphia Giants, the New York Lincoln Giants, the Chicago American Giants, the Hilldale Club, the Detroit Stars and the Bacharach Giants, as well as clubs in Cuba.

Francis is buried in Lincoln Cemetery in Blue Island, Ill., where numerous other blackball figures are also interred, including past NLBGMP beneficiaries like Bruce Petway, Walter Ball and Ted Strong. The Francis project has been in the works for several years now, but the light at the end of the tunnel is shining — the finishing touches are being made to the epitaph to be engraved in the stone (a task I was proudly in on), and Dr. Krock says there will hopefully be a dedication ceremony by the end of this year. (Finding a quality photo to use for the marker has been tough as well — like many of these legends, Francis was rarely photographed, or at least what’s currently known.)

The other endeavor currently gestating is the resting place of much-lauded, legendary journalist (and personal hero) Sam Lacy, longtime editor and writer for the Afro-American and inductee into the Writer’s and Broadcaster’s Wing of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Sam Lacy

Sam, who passed away in 2003 at the age of 99, is buried in Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Suitland, Md. However, we’re still trying to sort out what exactly is on the grave currently as well as working to contact family members before we can get down to business.

(I made a few calls to the cemetery recently, but unfortunately I can’t find my notes about the calls and I can’t remember the results of the conversations.)

Other famous figures also interred in Lincoln Memorial are seminal black historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson, football Hall of Famer Len Ford, tragic basketball prodigy Len Bias, medical pioneer Dr. Sarah Marinda Fraser, civil rights attorney Charles Hamilton Houston, trailblazing TV broadcaster Max Robinson, suffragist Mary Eliza Terrell, playwright Joseph A. Walker Jr. and, last but absolutely not least, the great Cyclone Joe Williams, who, frankly, I consider the best pitcher in history, any color or any era.

Naturally, given Lacy’s importance to and impact on my career, I’d like to contribute to this one, even though I’m 1,100 of miles away.

And, on that note, I should probably offer an explanation of where exactly my role is with the grave marker project. For a few years I reported on several of the NLBGMP’s efforts (including William Binga, Sol White and Olivia Taylor), but Dr. Krock and I talked a bit about a possibility of a conflict of interest for me if I was both helping with and making money from covering the project’s efforts.

So I decided to step back from covering the project for other publications — aside from this here blog — and focus on working for the NLBGMP itself for the time being. Aside from clearing up any ethical dilemmas, I’m really enjoying trying to give back to Negro Leagues and baseball history communities for all they’ve done to help, support, encourage and inspire me.

Tangential to that, then, are my efforts to locate graves of various blackball figures here in the Crescent City and surrounding parts and assess with of them could maybe benefit from the NLBGMP, such as Ducky Davenport and John Bissant. In the ensuing months, I’ll try to blog about and chronicle the progress I (and anyone else who wants to help!) make in that arena.

Dave Malarcher

I also want to celebrate the recent successful attempts to honor Louisiana legends, including Gentleman Dave Malarcher, who recently received a gorgeous head stone in Convent, La. Much to my embarrassment, I have yet to make it to St. James Parish to check it out myself, but I promise I will do that soon and report back.

Also mixed in there is situation of Hall of Famer Cristobal Torriente, who remains buried in a mass, unmarked grave in Queens, N.Y., and at this point (we think) the only HOFer left without his or her own headstone. Ralph Carhart has done a great deal of work with the Torriente situation, and I’ve tried to research/report/write/blog about as much as a can (like here, here and here), but the effort has kind of slacked off a bit as I’ve attended to other stuff and Ralph nears completion of his fantastic Hall Ball project. However, hopefully we can get back to Torriente’s plight very soon.

Cristobal Torriente

There’s also the slew of possible unmarked graves in or near St. Louis, a locale that largely has been untouched by the NLBGMP up to this point. However, Dr. Krock says the group has been in touch with officials at St. Peter’s Cemetery in St. Louis to determine how many players might be buried there, and then discover how many of them might need markers.

“That will probably be the big project of 2017,” he told me in an email.

Possibilities in St. Peter’s include powerful 19th-century owner/entrepreneur/kingpin Henry Bridgewater, St. Louis Giant Charles Mills and the multitalented Cowan “Bubba” Hyde.

Finally, possibly the most tragic, murky and complex story of all is that of Fred Goree, as covered by Ron Auther and Logan Jaffe. Goree was killed by police officers under still mysterious circumstances on an Illinois backroad in 1925 while driving with his semipro team to a scheduled contest.

There’s also others I’ve touched on in my blog but have kind of lost in the shuffle over the last year or two, such as sterling outfielder Ed Stone and Texas-born slugger George Johnson.

OK, now for some of the recently completed NLBGMP projects. One is Weldy Wilberforce Walker, the second openly African-American in the Major Leagues (after his brother, Fleet), who triumphantly received a stone in Steubenville, Ohio, thanks to the persistence and Herculean efforts of Craig Brown.

Courtesy of Craig Brown

Also finally receiving respect in death were Ted Strong and Waxey Williams.

One of the coolest recent success stories is that of Topeka Jack Johnson last October, another deadball star who strove tirelessly to create organized black leagues in the Midwest in the decades before the founding of the Negro National League in 1920. Not to be confused with heavyweight boxing champ of the same name, Topeka Jack toiled as a boxer himself but also worked as a police officer and firefighter.

To this day, Topeka Jack remains one of the most overlooked and underappreciated figures in blackball history, something Todd Fertig discussed in this excellent article for the Topeka Capital-Journal about the dedication ceremony last fall in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Topeka. I also wrote a blog post last year about Johnson’s involvement in the 1910 Western Colored League.

What’s especially cool about the recent Topeka Jack Johnson ceremony is that organizers and historians couple it with formal recognition of the nearby memorial to the Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, which in 1954 cracked the walls of segregation to arguably become the most important action of jurisprudence of the 20th century.

Topeka Jack Johnson

Sooooooo … there’s still much to be done, in terms of both legwork and financial donations. For more information, to help or to donate, check out the contacts info on the sites I linked to in the  first paragraph of this post.

I want to conclude this post by pointing you to a top-notch article from The Hardball Times from February of this year by Shakeia Taylor, who offers a comprehensive rundown of the NLBGMP’s history and mission, including photos of new markers and thoughts from Dr. Krock. So check it out if you can.

Next up for Home Plate Don’t Move — two grave projects in particular, Gus Brooks and Dan Burley.

Post-script

I would be remiss if I didn’t laud the efforts of my Malloy Conference roomie Ted Knorr toward honoring his personal hero and fellow Harrisburger Rap Dixon, a process that included raising funds for an installing this amazing head stone!

Courtesy Ted Knorr

Wright, Welch and the Black Diamond

Winfield Welch

The last couple weeks have been somewhat chaotic, and my mind has been a bit scattered. I tend to pinball from topic to topic and subject to subject with a general inability to concentrate what mental aptitude I have left after all these years into one coherent direction.

Over the last month or so that handicap has been compounded by a new steady freelancing gig I landed that has taken up a fair amount of time on a weekly basis. I do (hopefully) have larger posts working around in my head, but in this post I wanted to catch y’all up on some of the pursuits I’ve kind of, umm, pursued lately.

The first is Homestead Grays pitcher, Brooklyn Dodgers signee and New Orleans native Johnny Wright. In this earlier post I examined his tenure as the ace of the Great Lakes Naval team’s pitching rotation during WWII.

It was a pretty solid post, except for what I inexplicably missed — that Wright’s military grave marker says he served in the Army, not the Navy. For a supposedly hawkeyed journalist, I’m sometimes not all that perceptive.

Fortunately, a reader, Richard Tourangeau, did notice that discrepancy, and he thankfully emailed me and pointed it out. So I went through some of the newspaper articles I’d pulled up from online archives about Wright during the war, and, lo and behold, I found a story in the Oct. 7, 1944, issue of the Baltimore Afro-American that says Wright was given a leave to pitch for the Homesteaders in a doubleheader against the Black Barons:

But wait … the article states that Johnny was on leave from Fort Huachuca in Arizona! Not only is that not in Great Lakes, Ill., it’s an Army base, not a Navy installation! That somewhat corroborates his grave marker, at least a little.

Naturally I did a little more poking around to see if I could find any more contemporary articles that place Wright in the Army, but I couldn’t find any other than wire service variations of the one above.

However, things got even murkier when I found this wire service article in the July 26, 1945, issue of the Richmond (Ind.) Palladium-Item about the Fort Bennett Naval Field team in Brooklyn, N.Y., edging out the Chicago White Sox in an exhibition. Check out the reported pitcher for the New York sailors:

Yep, that’s our very own John Richard Wright, who suddenly is taking the hill for a Naval squad in upstate New York. Floyd Bennett Field was New York City’s first municipal airport before being converted to a military base.

At this point I have no idea what’s going on, and unfortunately, deadlines prevented me from digging any deeper into this. Doubly unfortunately, all the answers to the mystery of Johnny Wright’s military service trajectory might only be found in his personnel file somewhere, something to which I as a non-family member wouldn’t have easy access.

So, are there any military veterans or other folks reading this who could maybe explain Wright’s nomadic service travels? Would it be unusual for a serviceman whose primary duty was boosting troop and public morale by playing baseball, i.e. would it not be uncommon for a guy to be shifted around from installation to installation and even from service branch to service branch?

Also, obviously, if there’s any Wright descendants out there who would be able to willing to help clear up the hurler’s military career, definitely give a shout.

And because I like to have my head spinning as much as possible, I’ll throw in another quirky article before we leave the take of John Wright — a line or two in a Wendell Smith column from Dec. 1, 1945:

The Pittsburgh Courier column begins by stating:

“Johnny Wright, gangling right-handed pitcher of the Homestead Grays, has emphatically denied that he has signed a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Now in the Navy, Wright says he’ll stick with the Grays because Owners Posey and Jackson have been so good to him.”

That came just a month or two after Jackie Robinson had been inked by the Bums — and a just a few weeks before Wright did sign a minor league contract with Branch Rickey. As we know now, Wright never made it in organized baseball, the reason(s) for which are still debated to this day.

OK, on to the second find of the last couple weeks for me … In the past, I’ve written several blog posts (such as here and here) and an article about Winfield Welch, a native of tiny Napoleonville, La., who went on to an illustrious semipro and pro career with a slew of New Orleans teams before winning two NAL pennants with the Birmingham Black Barons in 1943-44 and eventually piloting barnstorming teams for promoter Abe Saperstein.

In all my previous research, I was never able to find an obituary or any other death details for Welch, other that he died in Pineville, La., in March 1980. But recently I’ve been trying to catalogue and locate the graves of various Louisiana Negro Leaguers, and I decided to take one more whack at the demise of Winfield Welch.

By coincidence, at the time I was also working on an article about jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden, a NOLA native who helped lay the foundation for the first truly American musical form. Bolden, you see, deteriorated mentally in his later years thanks to prodigious alcohol consumption, resulting in his committal to and ultimately his death in the Central Louisiana State Hospital, a longstanding and still-standing mental asylum located in, of all places, Pineville.

(After his death, Bolden’s body was moved back here to New Orleans, where he was buried in an unmarked grave in potter’s field named Holt Cemetery. The same fate befell another Crescent City native, Negro Leaguer Ducky Davenport, who starred for several NAL and NNL teams and was selected to multiple East-West All-Star rosters. A couple years ago, I looked into tracking down Davenport’s exact resting spot — chronicled by blog posts here and here — but I ultimately wasn’t able to do so, because, as I learned, many graves in Holt aren’t even recorded or charted. Such was also the case with Buddy Bolden; when grass roots volunteers worked to place a marker on Bolden’s resting place, his couldn’t be traced, but the community activists were able to erect a memorial for Bolden in the cemetery. That gives me hope that I can somehow try to honor Ducky Davenport in some way.)

Anyway, once I learned that the state mental asylum — as well as the facility’s own depressingly bleak cemetery — was in Pineville, I worried that Winfield Welch, who died in Pineville, might actually have spent his last years in the asylum and, as a result, was buried in the forlorn graveyard there.

Alas and quite fortunately, I at long last turned up an obituary for Welch in the Alexandria Town Talk from March 4, 1980 (Alexandria and Pineville are both located in Rapides Parish):

The obituary indicates that Welch died on March 2, 1980, in Pilgrim Manor Nursing Home in Pineville — not, happily, in the psychiatric hospital. He was buried Holly Oak Cemetery in Pineville. Note, though, that the paper spelled his name incorrectly — with two Ns instead of one. The misspelling of his name in contemporary media wasn’t unusual; during his career in New Orleans, Welch’s last name was frequently listed as Welsh. It was those various errors that probably made it tough to track down a definitive obit for him.

Now, onward and upward to the third of this post neat item I found recently — the legend of the Black Diamond.

That would be Robert Pipkins, a Mississippi born, NOLA-bred guy who gained substantial regional and some national fame as a pitcher nicknamed the Black Diamond.

And actually, Pipkins has a connection to Winfield Welch — when the latter was hired to pilot the Black Barons, he brought Black Diamond along as part of his pitching rotation. Here’s a pic from the June 24, 1942, issue of the Atlanta Daily World. To be honest, I’d never seen a good picture of him before, so this was a pretty cool find for me:

Following his stint with the Barons, the southpaw stuck with Welch when the latter managed barnstorming clubs like the Cincinnati Crescents in 1946.

Prior to hooking on with the Barons in 1942, Pipkins found fame on the, ahem, diamonds of New Orleans, frequently with teams owned by Fred Caulfield, such as the Caulfield Ads and the Jax Red Sox. Pipkins hurled for other regional teams as well both before and after his tenure in the national spotlight, garnering major coverage and kudos from the Louisiana Weekly, the Crescent City’s African-American newspaper.

As you can tell from his quirky nickname, Pipkins as such became a legendary figure on the New Orleans blackball scene, and during my research I’ve come across dozens of stories about him, but until now I never really had the opportunity to explore his personal life and background.

Thus, I was ecstatic when I found this picture and caption from the Times-Picayune in 1970, in which Pipkins receives an award from the Old Timers Baseball Club, a celebrated group of former NOLA Negro Leaguers who held an annual all-star reunion game and banquet. The caption for the picture states that Pipkins, at the time the oldest living member of the club, received the Old Timer of the Year Award:

The Diamond subsequently lived five more years before passing away in March 1975. Here’s his obit from the Times-Picayune:

The article indicates Pipkins’ involvement with the Old Timers Club as well as the Ninth Ward Grays Baseball Club, of which I’d never heard before. He was buried in Rest Haven Memorial Park, and I’ll hopefully be able to get out there and find his grave marker. There’s a good chance he does, in fact, have a marker, because he served in the Army during WWII and therefore should have had a military funeral.

According to several governmental documents — including his Army enlistment record from August 1942 — Pipkins was born in August 1907, which would have made him 67 at the time of his death.

Also of significance in the obit is the note about Pipkins’ membership in the local Masons and the scheduling of a memorial service by the organization. The note is signed by Worshipful Master Ellis Marsalis, which is quite intriguing because, if it’s the same guy, Ellis Marsalis was the patriarch of the famous Marsalis jazz musicians, including modern-day luminaries like Wynton and Branford.

OK, finally, on to the last item for this blog screed — expanding on my last entry, which examined at the importance of the contemporary African-American media to the coverage, evolution and progression Negro Leagues history and the integration of the national pastime. …

In another coincidence of my work and research, shortly after I penned that aforementioned post, I was assigned to write a story for nola.com about the founding of the Louisiana Weekly newspaper, a task that resulted in my delving into the archives of various academic journals and newspapers in search of information about the history of the publication.

In doing so, I discovered an essay by Doxey A. Wilkerson in the Autumn 1947 issue of The Journal of Negro Education entitled, “The Negro Press.” In addition to exploring the history of black newspapers, Wilkerson lays out how crucial African-American media have been to our nation’s history, but in a much more eloquent, encompassing way than my blog post did. Here are a few excerpts:

“This special-interest character of the Negro press is the key to an understanding of its unique role in the field of American journalism, and to an appreciation of its importance as a publicity medium. It is also a key to the effective use of that medium.

“From their inception more than 120 years ago Negro newspapers have always been fighting publications, militantly championing the freedom and full democratic rights of the Negro people, stimulating and organizing their struggles, and helping to build an increasingly unified Negro people’s liberation movement.”

The article asserts that “the pioneer Negro newspaper” was Freedom’s Journal, launched in New York City in 1827. The essay then states that the Journal, and all ensuing black newspapers, bore two primary purposes:

“… to promote the struggle for Negro democratic rights and to speak to America and the world in the name of the Negro people, constitute the predominating function of the Negro press today.

“It must be understood that Negro Americans are much more than merely one-tenth of the population which happens to have physical characteristics more or less different from those of most Americans. Their centuries of struggle against the slave system, and their continuing struggles since Emancipation against the social, economic and political discriminations which proscribe most all Negroes to an inferior status in the society-have built up common bonds of understanding among them, a sense of unity far more pronounced than in any other large sector of the population, and an organizational life which is in large measure separate from that of other Americans. As a result there has developed, within the general American population, a definite, self-conscious and increasingly organized minority people, fighting with ever increasing militancy and effectiveness towards its historic goals of full democratic freedom and dignity in all areas of our country’s life.”

As one reads through Wilkerson’s article, though, one must keep in mind that the piece was written in 1947, and as a result, should be approached through that contemporary prism, i.e. the politics and economics of the 1940s. He concludes with a look into the future:

“The outlook for the Negro press is the outlook for the Negro people — continued struggle against the hostile forces of bigotry which seek to negate the inherent worth and human dignity of America’s largest minority population. But it is a winning fight. Despite serious and at times protracted setbacks, the Negro people are, in- deed, moving forward toward their historic goal of full democratic rights and security. As always, the Negro press will continue to play a major role in organizing and strengthening this forward movement of the Negro people; and as they progress, so will the American nation progress-and so also will Negro newspapers become ever more effective instruments for the dissemination of news and insights and opinion.”

But here’s Wilkerson’s bottom line in 1947:

“In short, the Negro press is a crusading press which serves the special needs of a militantly struggling people.” [Emphasis his.]

I’m going to wrap things up with a quote from Dan Burley — a talented musician and bandleader, as well New York Amsterdam News editor, sportswriter and entertainment columnist — whom I referenced in this earlier post.

In August 1942, while discussing the risking career of prizefighter Harvey Massey, Burley stressed the importance of black newspapers to African-American athletes, sports and society, while also grinding an axe with what Burley saw as ungrateful readers and athletes:

“The colored newspaper worker … has a legitimate squawk: The Negro who gets breaks through our columns seldom gives credit where it is due. Many times Negro athletes, theatrical folks and others will take anything they can get through the efforts of a Negro newspaperman and then turn right around and give credit to a daily columnist or some other white person who takes over after the Negro benefactor opens the door.”

Such journalistic grousing, of course, is not unique to any particular ethnicity, era or medium; journalists have always grumbled about being unappreciated ignored by their readers and subjects, a trend that most certainly continues to this day.

But is it a fair complaint instead of simply wounded pride? That, again will be discussed and scrutinized in perpetuity. I’ll just note that in an ensuing post, Dan Burley and his influence will be front and center …

 

The black press: A complex past, a pivotal future

Dan Burley

PRELUDE

“Today, more than ever, the Black Press remains the trusted and audacious voice of black America. Today, the NNPA continues this irrepressible tradition of publishing truth to power. Our freedom fighting publishers are all united as we reaffirm the vital importance and relevance of the Black Press now and into the future.”

— NNPA President and CEO Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., to NNPA reporter Stacy M. Brown, March 22017

As the current administration in D.C. continues its completely rational and not-at-all-paranoid-and-unhinged feud/temper tantrum with the media, it’s forcing many of us in the journalism business to reevaluate and assess our purpose in society and American culture, what our role should be, where we’re headed and what we could be capable of if we actually focused on the right things and jettisoned our obsession with, well, stupid stuff.

It’s a reflective process that is absolutely necessary, and many observers feel the current political situation is spurring some American media members to “get their groove back,” so to speak.

Sports journalists, on the surface, might seem to be undergoing self-evaluation to a lesser extent, because so far, athletics — aside from the occasional volley of criticism or satire from prominent sports figures like Gregg Popovich or even teams like the Erie SeaWolves — have largely remained outside the fray. The sports media and the consumers of that sports media have traditionally often been able to keep the sports world separate from society as a whole, a place of refuge and tranquility, an escape from the madness of everyday life and all its deflating trappings.

But sooner or later, sports journalists will be sucked into the swirling cyclone that continues to rip our country apart. Maybe it’ll come when a championship team, as is tradition, to be invited to the White House to be honored and one or more members of the team refuse to go on political grounds. Or maybe it’ll come when, however terrifying the prospect is, a high-profile black or Latino athlete is assaulted by law enforcement authorities.

Whatever triggers the entrance of the sports media into the national debate, it will undoubtedly come at some point, and history has shown that over and over and over again. The sporting world and the complexities of society at large have intersected when boxing championships have dated white women or taken a stand against the draft. It’s happened when ex-football stars have been charged with murdering their ex-wives, and when Olympic sprinters have raised their gloved fists on the medal stand to protest the long-standing oppression of black Americans.

And, yeah, there’s a theme that emerges here — race. Most of the time, when sports and society do collide, it’s over racial or ethnic issues that expose the deep rifts that have severed our culture for centuries, issues that will continue to haunt our nation long, long after we are dead and gone. Racial oppression and bigotry will forever be the albatross around our collective neck, and no more apparent will it be than in the world of sports — whether sports scribes and fans like it or not.

White sportswriters weren’t thrilled …

Aside from boxing and track, ground zero for the clashing of sports journalism and society has been — or at least throughout the sport’s history — baseball. We need look no further than the film, “42,” which depicts the role African-American writer Wendell Smith played in Jackie Robinson’s entry into and first season in the major leagues.

In fact, as Negro League historians, we know that it was often members of the African-American media, particularly newspapers, who pressed for the integration of Organized Baseball and the end of Jim Crowism in the national pastime. Popular sports columnists arranged tryouts for black players with white teams, and scribes dogged MLB owners by consistent peppering them with question about whether the time for integration was upon the baseball business.

While it was usually black journalists who instigated the discussion, sympathetic white writers gradually took up arms with their African-American brethren and crusaded for equality and justice in the American pastime by vocalizing their beliefs in their own work, as well, as standing up for black writers in press boxes across the country.

The book, “Black Writers/Black Baseball,” is a compilation of columns by the greats of the African-American press. Wrote editor Jim Reisler:

“They were extraordinary men. … Indeed, their most lasting collective contribution may have been an eloquent, persistent and occasionally bitter demonstration of words designed to urge to urge the white baseball establishment to integrate. It was that same group who actively accompanied black players to tryouts with major league teams, making their case face-to-face with the white owners. Arguably, their campaign was what finally pushed big league owners to question and finally end the color ban.”

Of course, there’s a bit of hagiography there, because black writers absolutely possessed their own foibles and weaknesses; in particular, their constant, necessary efforts to straddle the blurry line between objective chroniclers and overt cheerleaders and PR tools wasn’t always successful.

But, regardless, they did their jobs and helped foment social revolution. One of those men who helped stir the pot, so to speak, was one of my heroes, Baltimore Afro-American sports editor and columnist Sam Lacy, whom I profiled in this earlier post and whose role in Robinson’s achievements was sadly excised out of “42.”

But there were others in the “Negro” papers aside from Smith and Lacy who addressed the need for and then the impact of integration in baseball, and they frequently did it with a prescience and insight that is very often lacking in our modern sports media. These journalists displayed the sagacity and canniness necessary to peel back the layers of matters at hand and force readers to absorb, interpret and ponder those matters for themselves.

In fact, here’s a passage from Sam’s autobiography that aptly describes some of the truisms of journalism:

“Some people believe sportswriting is a sop. It’s not. Often a writer must assess the talent and conduct of major stars, some of them close friends, and at times, that conduct involves sensitive matters or questions that affect a person’s ability to make a living. To do it honestly, the writer must be as straightforward when dealing with the players as when challenging the personalities and institutions that refused for so long to open doors and opportunities for all talented athletes without regard to color.”

To the point … While doing research for an article about blackball history in Chicago, I came across a few examples of such contemplation, in both the years preceding and following the integration of the sport. The handful of articles I turned up caught my eye and my interest as examples of the type of journalism that’s often quite lacking in today’s sports media.

(I’ll note that because I was research blackball in the Windy City, I mostly looked at the archives of the Chicago Defender, but from past research I can state that the themes I explore here were common to just about every African-American publication.)

In September 1942, Fay Young of the Chicago Defender produced a lengthy treatise that pointed out what most black Americans already knew and what a growing number of white citizens were realizing — that African Americans could be recruited and drafted into a war for freedom, justice and equality, but they were rigidly blocked from playing in Organized Baseball, the flagship of American sporting image and culture.

Young bluntly called out the owners, managers and other powers-that-be in baseball by raising the names of the dictators the U.S. military servicemen and women were giving their lives to fight. Integration, he said, would seem to just make sense.

“But such is not the case — at least not so far — and it may be some time before the owners and powers that govern organized baseball come to the full realization that they themselves are playing into the hands of Hitler, Mussolini and the Japanese emperor, Hirohito. The leaders are the Axis powers are the enemies of our nation — likewise and man or set of men who deny American citizens the right to earn a decent livelihood because of color must be jotted down in this day and time as enemies of fullfledged [sic] loyal American citizens.”

Damn.

Young also dropped some logic up in there — he noted that integration would increase team attendance and revenue; he disputed the “hotels and restaurants won’t serve integrated teams” malarky but pointing out that college football and track teams already did so just fine; and put the kibosh on the theory that race riots simply wouldn’t happen anymore, and Joe Louis’ reign as heavyweight champ proved that.

Plus, he essentially called MLB owners wusses — many of these guys claimed they want to hire Negroes, but they had so little backbone that they were skeered to make the first move.

Oh, and Young called strident segregationists “dyed-in-the-wool crackers.” Which, I’m sorry, is pretty freakin’ funny.

You want blunt and incisive? Move ahead 23 years and read a column Doc Young (no relation) wrote for the Defender in 1965 under the headline, “How Negro Players Saved Organized Baseball.” Eighteen years after MLB integration, Young ran down — with his characteristic soaring-yet-searing style — what happened in the 1940s, including the usual dumbarse and illogical reasons Organized Baseball and its enablers refused to integrate. Terms like “lilywhite as the driven snow,” “private preserve of segregationists,” and “cozy in their closed shop” were used.

But Young then drove to what many historians and sociologists believe was the heart of the psychology of segregation — white men, fueled by insecurity, jealousy, sexist and testosterone, were freaked about the possibility of black men getting close to white women. Wrote Young:

“A prominent, and frank, major league executive told a Negro club that integration would work because women were attracted to home run hitters and, he indicated, the idea of white women applauding muscular Negro home run hitters was no less than frightening.”

Mic drop.

That wasn’t the only bold assertion Young made in the column. Citing evidence that, by 1965, MLB’s best, most well paid players were largely African-American. Also noting that most competitive and potential pennant-winning teams had black stars, Young laid it all out there, with a juicy dollop of sarcasm:

“In this, the twentieth year of baseball’s equal opportunity employment program, no one gets upset because Caucasian females applaud a Willie Mays, not when Negro females cheer a Mickey Mantle. And, happily, contrary to the dire predictions of certain bigots on learning that Robinson had been signed to play organized ball, the country hasn’t gone to pot and Rickey hasn’t become a minister in a Father Divine Temple in Harlem.

“One needs not approach the boundaries of hyperbole to say that Negro players, and the Latin ‘coloreds’ who followed them, actually have been the saviors of major league baseball. For, without them, what is now known as major league ball would hardly measure up to Triple-A, minor league standards.”

In other words, baseball would suck without integration.

However, one prognostication about the impact integration would have — that it would kill the Negro Leagues — did, in fact, come true. Some pundits pointed it out matter-of-factly, some asserted it would be a painful but necessary sep toward a better American, and others flouted it as a phony baloney excuse to retain Jim Crow in the national pastime.

Regardless of how one views the decline of the Negro Leagues, it did happen, and naturally, journalists in the black press both documented and lamented it. Without a doubt, the very existence and greatness of the Negro Leagues was a shining example of African-American perseverance, pride and ingenuity, but it was also a gloomy symbol of the virulent fear that gripped American society for centuries.

The effect the disintegration of blackball had on the country’s African-American press is a subject that’s always intrigued me. Did the elimination of one of their bread-and-butter beats destroy Negro sports pages or cause catastrophic drops in circulation and ad revenue? Or were newspapers and reporters able to transition from the the subject of segregation to the topic of integration?

What would Ida do?

The answer to those queries are probably out there, but what’s true is that dozens of African-American newspapers and broadcast outlets are still alive and thriving. In fact, the Chicago Defender is in its 112th year of publication at a time when mainstream papers have been circling the drain for decades. In fact, the Defender expanded to a daily in 1956, a decade after baseball integration, suggesting the country’s flagship black paper progress in baseball. (It went back to weekly status in 2003.)

Of course, baseball hasn’t really been the only thing going on in the United States for 150 years. There’s been a few other things popping up now and then — wars, lynchings, economic downturns, and fire hoses and attack dogs and bombed churches — so it would be absolutely ridiculous to think baseball (as well as other sports) were what predicted the health of a black media outlet.

In fact, the greatest impact the Defender has had on American politics, society and economics was its strident, persistent, fearless messages to Southern African-Americans, urging them to abandon the life-threatening and humiliating fear and oppression of Jim Crow and move north for more economic opportunity and sociopolitical equality.

Such missives factored heavily into the Great Migration that completely transformed American on myriad levels. That recruitment was also despised and even feared by the Southern white establishment, who not only lost the ability to boost their own pathetic self-esteem by psychologically and physically attacking people not like them, but also the lifeblood of the agricultural, plantation economy that had fed and propped up all of Dixie society for centuries. In other words, Southern whites were scared witless of going broke and facing their own depressing psychologies.

Mr. Lacy

But, back to the original point … African-American newspapers of the late 1940s and ’50s were forced to cover and comment on the decline of the Negro Leagues. They knew they had to, for better or for worse, and they did so with impressive prescience and self-reflection that many modern-day media meatheads painfully lack.

In September 1950, the Associated Negro Press’ Luix Virgil Overbea (that’s a mouthful) penned a column that analyzed the decline of the Negro Leagues and asserted that rejuvenated support from black baseball fans (and, I suppose, fans of other ethnicities) was desperately needed to keep blackball alive.

The overall tone of Overebea’s piece was melancholic and rueful, but it was also laced with appeals to tradition and cultural pride. A few (lengthy) excerpts:

“Negro baseball is one the ropes facing a knockout blow unless Negro fans will rally to its support and save it until next year.

“Unfortunately, I must write this story of what appears to me a decaying enterprise, Negro baseball. Unless something is done constructively, by both the owners and the fans, I fear that next year at this time I may be forced to write an obituary for organized Negro baseball. …

“Racial pride tells me that in the main the NAL is a Negro enterprise employing Negroes and making money for the race. As a Negro I should support it.

“This, however, is not reason enough. As long as there is Jim Crow in the South on the basis of performance as well as in observance, Negro baseball as such is needed. If the Southern Negro wants to play baseball there, he will have to set up the game for himself.”

Overbea cited several examples of lousy attendance throughout the Negro Leagues world as evidence — less than 5,000 folks at an American Giants game despite a huge Elks convention in Chi-town; a continued sleep slide in turnout at the prestigious East-West game; and the Cleveland Buckeyes went belly up and the Baltimore Elites (the previous year’s league champs) were rumored to be on the brink of folding up their tents (they made it through the 1950 campaign before giving up).

Whose fault is that? Not just Negro League teams and owners, Overbea charged:

“What is wrong with Negro baseball to bring on all these troubles? The teams play a very good brand of baseball, better than most minor league clubs. Umpires keep the game moving and prevent those old-time player fist fights. A number of the players are very colorful.

“Some of the things wrong are not the fault of the clubs themselves. These include schedules, parks, booking games, and high costs. An example of park and schedule troubles is the case of the Indianapolis Clowns who did not play a single home games this season because no park was available to them.

“The great bugaboo in Negro baseball that clubs can do something about is the lack of fan support. People just do not go out to the parks to see the teams play.

“Artificial stimulants are not enough; clubs must build up fan loyalty. The American Giants had a ladies day on opening day and still did not draw 5,000 people to two games. The Giants also hired some white players, but they have not pulled in any crowds either here in Chicago. …

“A large percentage [of fans] still come just to raise the bottle and trouble. In talking to them I have learned that nobody seems to know the players. Some girls come out to see and meet the players. A youngster or two asks for an autograph. Otherwise the players and the games are often ignored.”

Plus he took a shot at the beat reporters who covered black baseball. In brief: Reporters are lazy dumbnuts.

There’s a lot to unpack in that column. One, in this day and age, having endured the steroid era/panic/witch hunt, the term “artificial stimulants” takes on a whole new spin, as it were. But we know what Overbea meant, and he was right — pretty much any goofy thing Negro League teams threw at fans made nary a difference. As the 1950s wore on, for example, the Clowns produced loonier and loonier stunts, but when the Majors snapped up their prime players — Mr. Aaron, for example — fans preferred to see the future clout king instead of zaniness.

Two, when he bemoans the fact that many fans come to Negro games simply to get plastered, cause a ruckus and completely ignores what’s happening on the field sounds like every Dodgers game currently.

But delving into deeper, serious matters raised by Overbea, I can’t address the issue because I’m neither black nor a mid-century baseball fan, so it wouldn’t be right for me to really do some opinionation on that topic.

But I would simply comment that, from research and discussions, it seems like the black baseball enthusiasts at that time might have had more racial pride in the guys who had broken through to the Majors and were excelling, like Robinson, Doby, Irvin, Satch and others. My sense was that the entire country knew that they were witnessing the dawn of an exciting new epoch and were adjusting to it in corresponding fashion (even the bigots who were still botherating had to grudgingly admit that their brand of segregated hardball was in the past).

The issue of black baseball in the South … Having undertaken a fair amount of research into that subject (especially here in NOLA), Overbea does have somewhat of a point, but he misses the fact that African-American talent in the South often signed up with squads elsewhere in the country, both integrated and segregated, such as several prospects here in the Crescent City like my late friend Herb Simpson. There was no reason the aspiring hardball stars would have to stay below the Mason-Dixon.

However, it is true that some leagues in Dixie did steadfastly and stubbornly refuse to accept the inevitable — like the Southern Association (including the New Orleans Pelicans), arguably most the recalcitrant circuit in the country, which, for all intents and purposes never integrated until its dying day in 1960. But other loops like the celebrated Evangeline League eventually did accept black players, albeit somewhat reluctantly. Southern teams knew the writing was on the wall, both socially and financially, and they welcomed African Americans when they realized they had to do so just to survive.

Then there’s Overbea’s most prickly point, at least for journalists — that beat writers of the day were slackers (maybe not as extensively as Spicoli, of course, but still occupying their time having pizza delivered to the newsroom).

That charge, I surmise, was completely bogus, because black media, especially newspapers, in the 1950s — aside from personally being thrilled to cover the exhilarating rides of Jackie and other pioneers — needed to survive financially, which meant giving their readers what the readers wanted to see, which was detailed coverage of said pioneers.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a brutal fact that still exists today, and not just for African-American media outlets. Media folks now are churning out what they believe their readers want, a process made even more thorny over the 30-plus years, thanks to online and social media and 24-7 TV outlets. The curse of the 24-hour news cycle — and I do believe it’s a curse, both for journalists and consumers — has led to the spewing out of just plain crappy news product.

Thanks for ruining things

That phony urgency has led media types to completely misread, so to speak, what many viewers and readers truly want — in depth, quality, complex journalism, not trashy tweets and garbage coverage of missing airliners and whatever dumb stuff was barfed out by InfoWars or Breitbart or Judge Pirro this time.

That also applies to modern sports media, which have made such amorphous mularky as bracketology and NFL draft boards staples of sports journalists’ own never-ending news cycles. Instead of posting up-to-the-minute updates about the status of Colin Kaepernick’s afro (“he’s 6-foot-5, with the afro 6-foot-9!”), sports jocks should delve deeply into the issues his actions have raised.

OK, now, back to the original theme of this ridiculously blathering post — the articles I found during my Chicago research — particularly the final one in the pile.

In October 1943, Defender columnist Lucius Harper penned one of his “Dustin’ of the News,” one that should serve as a model for serious journalists even seven-odd decades after it hit the streets. The lengthy commentary cuts to the bone regarding a phenomenon that has routinely shown up over the last century of American — the appropriation and outright theft of African-American culture and enterprise.

It’s an ugly trend that perhaps was/is most prevalent in the music business — white record company execs and concert producers swiping songwriting credit and profit from black artists. That’s not to mention the complete whitewashing of African-American music by white musicians, from Paul Whiteman to Pat Boone to Vanilla Ice.

But in October 1943, Harper’s concern was white businessmen taking advantage of the ever-evolving financial, geographic and structural nature of the Negro Leagues and its teams to slide in and usurp control, either upfront or behind the scenes, of blackball operations and enterprise. He asserted:

“Now that Negro baseball has become a paying proposition, it is on the threshold of danger for those few Negro business men who own and control colored clubs. When and Negro attraction begins to pile up enormous profits … and exhibition games can command the attention of some twenty-thousands persons in mid-season, there is a tendency on the part of white vested interests to gain the commanding reins of such a proposition, and with cunning and somewhat polite procedure relegate to the background, or to unimportant positions, the Negroes who control and share in the profits of such enterprises.

“So for racial cooperation from the standpoint of ownership and management of organized Negro baseball has been fruitful of great results, and has thus far demonstrated that racial unity in big business can be conducted along the lines of the most cordial and courteous relations. Upon this arrangement alone rests the hope and future of organized Negro baseball. To corrupt it would be fatal.”

Yeah that was a single long paragraph as originally published, so I broke it up into two of them. Even with that, Harper’s message can be a bit tough to discern through the complex sentence structure and florid language. At first, it seems like he’s lamenting the backdoor involvement of white entrepreneurs in black baseball, but then his prose takes a slight curve and he appears to approve, albeit reluctantly, the cautiously symbiotic arrangement produced by white intervention.

Such dense language and layered commentary was one of the constants of not just African-American journalism of the time, but all media outlets of the 1940s. But Harper offers measured qualifying of his first statements later in the column:

“Comes the report, however, that a corruption is in view. It will be known as the ‘October Plan’ in which organized Negro baseball may bury its interracial harmony and thereby transfer its profits and sole guidance to the interest of a group in which Negro owners of ball clubs will be merely the paid servants instead of the masters of the situation in the only sport now available for their stellar appearance in the nation’s athletic program. …”

Harper points to the music, boxing and horse-racing businesses in which it “seems an unwritten law that whenever a Negro becomes ‘a card or an ace’ he must not entrust his destiny in the hands and guidance of his own folk. Seeping into Negro baseball, now at its peak, is this odium.

“[The October Plan], we are told, is to break up the two leagues, combine them into one, mostly representing the East and West, couple Kansas City and Chicago, two of the best Negro League baseball centers, under one team (robbing Chicago fans of their hometown interest in an exclusive club) and transferring the master control of the league from colored to white.

“Such a plan if carried out in the October meeting will dwindle the interest of the public in organized Negro baseball, and it is the Negro fans in the final analysis who support the game and pile up the profits, not a few greedy, power-seeking owners of the clubs. The ‘October Plan’ has its ‘death sentence’ to the Negro owner in organized baseball that we hope it will not pronounce.”

Right off, I’ve never heard of any such backdoor “October Plan” that would have essentially been a massive coup on the part of white business interests with existing black team owners in full collusion. If anyone out there has heard of anything along those lines brewing during the 1943 Negro Leagues season, let me know.

(As a sidenote, Harper doesn’t name names in terms of exactly which white power brokers he had in mind, but it’s absolutely true that over the years, for better and for worse, white power brokers like Eddie Gottlieb, Abe Saperstein, Syd Pollock and the inimitable Kansas City Monarchs owner J.L. Wilkinson, who arguably was the best white executive in blackball history and who has a plaque in Cooperstown to prove it.)

It should be noted that when discussing Gottlieb and Saperstein, two points are worth noting: one, both are more known for their basketball exploits (hence the links to the Naismith Museum); and two, both undoubtedly had to face and navigate anti-Semitism throughout their careers, which factors into the larger Negro Leagues picture.

Defender founder Robert Abbott

However, the organization, stability and profitability of blackball (at least in general) was certainly on the minds of other African-American journalists at the time; scribes such as Wendell Smith of the Pittsburgh Courier and Dan Burley of the New York Amsterdam News proffered a keen awareness that black baseball was at a crucial junction in its existence mid-war. (Burley was also a talented musician, music writer and booking agent.)

Coming off an extremely successful season in ’43 — economic prosperity from the war effort provided fans with enough money to spend on games, a development reflected, for example, by the tens of thousands who turned out for the East-West game — these media hawkeyes pushed Negro League owners to get their stuff together to be ready if and when Organized Baseball finally broke down and signed black talent.

Wrote Smith in December 1943:

“I am firmly convinced that the time has come for owners of Negro teams to settle down and start operating as a sound business basis. If there was ever a time for these men to start figuring and planning for the future, its is now. … No one knows when the majors will drop the color barrier and decide to admit Negro players. … Consequently, it seems to me, it would be wise for owners of teams in the Negro American and Negro National leagues to stabilize themselves to the extent that they will be able to realize a financial profit if they are forced to give up some of their players.”

Burley, meanwhile, eviscerated Negro League execs for the bumbling and fumbling that led to blackball’s failure to help the war effort:

“Another non-beautiful chapter in the do-nothing history of organized Negro Baseball seems to have been written … It can safely be said that a blow to racial prestige has come about in the failure of the bigwigs of Negro baseball to make a representation to the War Department for colored players to go abroad, either as teams, or mixed with the white clubs that are under consideration.

“All along, Negro Baseball hasn’t shown too much get up in demanding its proper place in the national morale equation.

“It has yet to take a clearcut, unequivocal viewpoint of Negro players in the Big League. …

“A loose organization of teams that can kick over the traces [of organization] on a moment’s notice; play where they want to and when they want to against whom they please, so to speak, isn’t a healthy indication that Negro Baseball is on its way. Neither does it augur well for the supporting fans to not see anything at all about what colored club owners and demanding not alone for the players, but for the good of all organized Negro baseball.”

Burley, who was always a bit more pointed and fearless in his critiques than other black writers, also targets the personal qualities of each team owner and how it affects the status quo — Ed Bolden of the Philly Stars (smart but to quiet and unassertive), James Semler of the NY Black Yankees (puts forward good ideas but too burdened by financial challenges and the lure of his Long Island retreat), Tom Wilson of the Baltimore Elite Giants (affable and happy-go-lucky, but to the extreme, resulting in a troubling nonchalance), Alex Pompez of the NY Cubans (a dreamer with big visions but no capital to make them happen) and Cum Posey of the Homestead Grays (extremely knowledgeable and capable but too accustomed to working behind closed doors).

Burley rips the Negro Leagues for never hiring a commissioner, failing to send advocates and lobbyists to Washington, relying too heavily on the once-a-year blockbuster East-West Game and a handful of premium exhibition contests for revenue, and just being insular and myopic in the big picture. He states:

“There is no doubting the ability of the boys in question to set up a table overnight, load it down with everything fine and nice and score a sellout with the tickets. But that’s overnight; the stuff is where it can be watched; where individual investors can run back and see if it still there during the course of the night, week or month the money is on the table. But when it comes to long-range vision in which what a guy does today won’t have effect or result until five years or so from now, our boys are on the wrong side of the fence.”

In the end, all of those factors, failures or fudge-ups absolutely could have contributed to blackball’s downfall, and exactly why those conditions existed — basically, why the powers-that-be in the Negro Leagues just couldn’t get on the ball internally and organizationally — has been oft discussed, always will be discussed, and stands as too big a topic for here and now.

However, the assertions of Smith and Burley do require reflection in one regard — the role of the great Effa Manley. Over the last couple of decades — and especially with her Hall of Fame induction in 2006 — Effa’s involvement in and impact on Negro Leagues history have received the attention and research they deserve, because Mrs. Manley was, quite simply, a titan, often the only Negro Leagues owner that had, well, any balls whatsoever.

But in his column, Smith advances bunch of ideas like commandments from Moses even though Effa had been advocating for several of those same proposals for years. Smith makes no mention of her whatsoever, and he steadfastly refers to all the owners and executives solely in the masculine.

But Burley does mention Manley in his critique of each owner, and he matter-of-factly asserts that she gets casually dismissed by her colleagues:

“Effa Manley of the Newark Eagles, a stormy petrel of idealism who has advanced many forward and constructive ideas about the investment of her husband, Abe, owner of the club, but who is handicapped by her sex and by lack of co-operation.”

But, digression aside, back to the analysis of the columns by the three scribes — Burley, Smith and Harper — because within them lies the fundamental difference between the urgent positivity of Smith and Burley, and the morose pessimism of Harper. It also, perhaps, fleshes out overall African-American society and all of American society at the time.

In 1943, Smith and Burley, for all their inspiring foresight, might not have fully realized what integration of the sport would eventually entail — as that process, initiated by Branch Rickey and joined by Bill Veeck and other MLB owners, gradually developed beginning in late 1945, at least a few of those MLB execs didn’t think anything of simply raiding Negro teams for talent, pilfering blackball stars with no compensation or even regard for Negro League teams of owners.

For all of Rickey’s visionary altruism and push for social equality, he was also had dollar signs in his eyes when he signed Jackie, a move that triggered slow, painful decline and disintegration of the Negro Leagues.

So, in a way, white businessmen did end up causing blackball’s demise not just as an athletic enterprise, but as a profitable, African-American financial juggernaut. It might not have gone in the exact way Harper foretold, but it did take place.

In that regard, as a journalist, Harper was on the cutting edge of prognostication and commentary, and he was able to cut through the misty-eyed halcyon days of the era with what proved to be a stinging truism — the destruction of the once-proud Negro Leagues by outside forces.

And that, ladles and gentlemints, is what a good journalist does. He or she needs to walk the tightrope between sensational bluster and revolutionary prescience when analyzing not just what’s going down now, but what the future may hold.

The best African-American journalists of the 20th century were able to do that, just like white pundits in the mainstream of society did. But in addition to contributing to the zeitgeist, black writers brought a distinctive, often ignored point of view — that of a minority that was boldly shedding centuries of bigotry and ignorance and clawing away, slowly, tenaciously, unflaggingly, toward a new day.

They were pissed, they were proud, they were relentless, and they were judicious. And they still are today. (One need only check out April Ryan sparring with Sean Spicer.) They are our brothers and sisters in arms, and they, like us, will not stop.

POSTSCRIPT

 

“Yet, while these developments contributed to the African-American community’s decreasing interest in the Negro Leagues, the black press’ treatment of and relationship with the Negro Leagues played an important role as well. African-American newspapers’ attitudes towards the Negro Leagues shifted dramatically from the cooperative spirit between the two institutions in the 1920s and 1930s, to a fractured, contentious relationship during the 1940s and 1950s. This change influenced African-Americans’ perception of the league. More importantly, the deteriorating relationship between these two black institutions illustrates the struggles African-Americans encountered as they transitioned into an integrated environment.”

— Samuel Edward Gale, The International Journal of the History of Sport, July 2016

Johnny Wright, U.S. Navy ace

I apologize for going AWOL for two weeks — I had a couple of pressing deadlines I had to meet, and, per my usual, I kind of procrastinated. Kind of. Just a bit.

Anyway, in doing one of those articles — a summary of Chicago’s blackball history — I came across a few neat little bits and pieces that I wanted to put out there over the next week while I try to work on some longer, more personal posts.

The first one I picked up on involved the Great Lakes Naval Training Center team in Great Lakes, Ill., which sponsored two baseball teams of naval servicemen during World War II — one white, one black. The African-American squad was formed partially to provide a competitive adversary for the base’s white squad, which was helmed by future Hall of Fame catcher Mickey Cochrane.

Not surprisingly to readers of this blog, as well as other Negro Leagues volumes, the Negro Bluejackets did more than just compete — they won the Midwest Servicemen’s League title in 1944, in addition to successfully barnstorming around Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and other Midwestern states.

While the black club’s roster included only one huge name — Larry Doby, future star for the Newark Eagles and the Cleveland Indians, and 1998 National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee — the aggregation was definitely studded with a solid core of other Negro League standouts of the day. Capitol University graduate Ensign Elmer Pesek [I haven’t been able to track down the Capitol reference] skippered the squad (I’ve seen other variations on his name, including first names Ernest and Al, as well as last name Peshek).

The African-American Bluejackets’ strength was undoubtedly its pitching staff, which, from all accounts, was comprised of just two guys. One was Herb Bracken, who hurled for the St. Louis Stars before joining the Navy.

The other was one of NOLA’s most prominent hometown lads, Johnny Wright, who first gained fame on a national scale when he posted an eye-popping mark of 30-5 for the Homestead Grays in 1943.

However, he’s probably best known, at least to the general public, as the man Branch Rickey signed a couple months after Rickey inked Jackie Robinson. Wright obviously didn’t find the same type of success in Organized Baseball as Robbie did; he never made it to the Dodgers themselves, then flitted out of Organized ball altogether by the end of the ’46 season. He returned to the Grays, where he continued to be a stalwart on the iconic Negro League team for several years before retiring to near obscurity. He died in a VA hospital in Jackson, Miss., in 1990.

Over the intervening decades, a few theories have been advanced regarding why Wright couldn’t match Robinson’s success — by many reports, he had major troubled with control once he entered Organized Baseball — but the bigger issue that springs from that debate is why Rickey even signed Wright in this first place? Did the Mahatma truly believe that the New Orleanian had the potential to make the Majors? Or was Wright brought on simply to provide Robinson, the Chosen One, a companion during that brutal first year (1946) and beyond? (I actually wrote a story on this discussion for Baseball America a few years ago.)

For a pitcher who was described by some blackball compatriots as the equal to Satchel Paige, Wright’s story of slipping away into failure is an unbelievably depressing one.

But that’s not the matter at hand here. For the purposes of this blog post, I just wanted to highlight Johnny’s time in the Navy during WWII. Although I have yet to find any of his actually service records (Ancestry hasn’t been helpful), his success as a hurler for the Bluejackets in 1944 was pretty well documented by the contemporary press.

Wright appears to have been the main workhorse of the two-man rotation; in addition to being the primary starter, he also came on in relief several times. The highlight of his season, though, was a sterling, seven-inning no-hitter he tossed on July 8 against the Naval Air School. Wright’s teammates also came to play, clubbing out 15 hits in the 13-1 victory. The Air School’s lone tally came in the fourth inning on an error and a sacrifice.

Chicago Tribune, July 9, 1944

But that was hardly Johnny’s only prime performance. In May 1944, he entered in relief in the second inning against Fort Sheridan, who had run up four scores in less than two frames, and allowed only one more run in the Bluejackets’ 12-6 triumph. A month later, “Needlenose” Wright blanked the squad from Camp Custer, 1-0, giving up just a troika of safeties.

Then, in mid-August, 15,000 fans witnessed Wright dominating a team of local industrial league stars in Cleveland, giving up just two walks while fanning seven in the ’Jackets’ 14-0 pounding.

In addition to garnering press attention from papers at just about every locale the Great Lakes squad visited, Wright was watched by newspapers in his adopted hometown of Pittsburgh. The Post-Gazette, for example, occasionally included little blurbs about the NOLA native during the 1944 campaign. In its May 25, 1944, edition, the paper stated:

“Johnny Wright, former star hurler for the Homestead Grays, is keeping up the good work with the Great Lakes Negro baseball team.”

The black press, naturally, played up the service status and exploits of Negro Leaguers, and quite deservedly so. That included Billy Young of the Cleveland Call and Post, who authored a detailed profile of the Great Lakes team in July 1944 that included short bios of each player. Here’s how Young described Wright:

“John Richard Wright, right-handed pitcher, former member of the Homestead Grays, hails from New Orleans, Louisiana, is 5 feet, 11 inches tall and weighs 168 pounds. He won 30 games and lost 5 last year. He worked in the [famed East-West] All-Star Classic at Comiskey Park, Chicago. He operates now as a seaman, second class, is 27 years of age and handles the duties of a physical instructor exceptionally well. He learned his baseball with the Newark Eagles and the Toledo Crawfords.”

(Wright did don the flannels of both those teams, as well as the Atlanta Black Crackers before arriving in Pittsburgh.)

However, although he was excelling for Uncle Sam, Wright also had a handful of opportunities during the season to suit up with his old Homestead mates. Taking full advantage of furloughs, saw time for the Grays in a loss to the Birmingham Black Barons in mid-June, and he made an appearance at the famous and prestigious East-West All-Star Game in Chicago in August. (Pittsburgh Courier scribe Wendell Smith notes that Wright “was getting handshakes from all the ball players.”)

But it was a week or so later that Wright his biggest chance of the season to help the Grays, when the Homesteaders faced the Newark Eagles in a one-game playoff to determine the winner of the NNL’s first half.

And the Crescent City kid came through for Cum Posey’s crew, who pulled out a thrilling, 9-4 victory in the ninth inning. Wright earned the W, while the irascible Terris McDuffie was tagged with the loss.

(As a military-related side note, an article in the New York Amsterdam News described an incident at the game in which a reporter needled Grays slugger Josh Gibson about the latter’s absence from military service. The reporter suggested that Josh was “ducking” service.)

That seems to have been Wright’s final appearance for Homestead in ’44; he went on to finish his service with Great Lakes, while the Needlenose-less Grays nonetheless proceeded to win the NNL overall flag and defeat the Black Barons, 4 games to 1, in the Negro World Series.

To sum up Wright’s service, here’s how the July 2015 issue of Gary Bedingfield’s Baseball in Wartime newsletter relates it:

“In 1944, Wright pitched for the Negro Varsity team at US Naval Training Station Great Lakes, Illinois. He was 16-4 during the regular season and a Midwest Servicemen League all-star selection in June of that year.”

So, overall, Wright had a quite solid season on the mound in 1944, most of it while representing the Navy, which is definitely admirable. In terms of the role of the Great Lakes Negro team played in the overall war effort, as well as shaping the public’s perceptions of African-American servicemen and athletes, well, that could be a bit more cloudy. In an age when pretty much the entire American military was still segregated — a fact that kind of flew in the face of our country’s stated drive to preserve equality and democracy across the globe during the war — and black servicemen were frequently kept out of active combat and given more humdrum duties, the legacy of ventures like the Great Lakes Negro squad is decidedly mixed.

(To be fair, the military also had an inclination to often keeping star athletes of all races out of active combat and placing them in assignments that helped them play and perform for Stateside troops as well as civilians as a way to boost morale for the war. For example, heavyweight champ Joe Louis fought several exhibition bouts for Stateside crowds while he was serving in the Army.)

Author Steven R. Bullock examined the purpose and impact of military teams during World War II, including on troop morale and public support, in his 2004 book, “Playing for Their Nation: The American Military and Baseball During World War II.”

In a condensed essay in the Spring 2000 issue of the Journal of Sport History, Bullock noted that, while the Great Lakes men found a relatively decent amount of success, they were, unfortunately, an anomaly:

“The glaring exception to this preoccupation with athletics [in the WWII armed forces] involved African-American soldiers and sailors, who were often overlooked, ignored, or isolated by the American military. This inequitable treatment manifested itself very clearly in athletics, particularly in the realm of military baseball. At some of the larger military installations, such as the Great Lakes Naval Training Station, African American sailors did have the opportunity to compete on segregated baseball teams, and did so there with great success. In 1944, for example, a squad composed of African American sailors stationed at Great Lakes compiled an impressive 32-10 record and claimed the Midwest Service League title. However, for many smaller military bases, there were not enough African Americans to field segregated teams; thus, black soldiers and sailors often found themselves unable to compete on base-ball teams.”

As for Johnny Wright, he, too, remains an enigma, not just in the larger landscape of American baseball history, but also here in New Orleans, where his post-athletic life has always been shrouded in mystery.

When he was signed by the Dodgers, the local African-American newspaper, the Louisiana Weekly, ran massive spreads on the event and followed Wright’s progress in Organized Baseball, while national correspondents from other papers descended on the Crescent City.

However, once the local lad crashed and burned on the big stage, the local media gave him sporadic, fleeting mention as he rounded out his pitching career with the Grays and beyond.

After that, Wright worked a bunch of steady blue-collar jobs here and elsewhere, but in general he slipped into the ether, his life becoming just as puzzling as the reasons for his inability to match the success of Robinson and other black players who followed in Jackie’s path.

In fact, from what I’ve gathered, many locals — well, not many, really, because he’s sadly but largely forgotten here in his hometown — have just stories of fleeting encounters, tales of sightings at bars and in crowds. Whether Needlenose kept up with baseball or followed the sport on any level is just plain unclear, at least to this point.

One person who knew John Wright as well as anyone was legendary New Orleans player, historian and activist Walter Wright (no relation), who served as the patriarch of NOLA’s surviving Negro Leagues community for decades until his own death in 2002. In 1997, Wright was interviewed by the Times-Picayune newspaper, and he relayed a tale that was at best fragmented and mysterious.

“I’m sure most of his co-workers at the gypsum plant never even knew he was a ballplayer,” Walter Wright told the paper.

The article concluded with Walter telling the paper about giving the eulogy and Johnny’s funeral.

“And I when I looked over at his casket,” Walter Wright said, “I couldn’t help
wondering how many stories it contained – stories that now would never be told.”

One of my good friends here, Ro Brown, is an award-winning former TV sports anchor who currently works in the athletic department at the University of New Orleans.

On a couple occasions, Ro has related how, many years ago, he tried to track down John Wright and, at first, didn’t have much luck at all, until an old timer suggested Ro check a local dive bar. Ro says that even though he asked the man for the former star pitcher, the gentleman didn’t at first make the connection between “star baseball player” and the aging John Wright the man knew.

But Ro took the gentleman’s advice one afternoon and went to the bar, where he did, in fact, find John Richard Wright Sr., former pitcher for one of the greatest dynasties in baseball history and compatriot of Jackie Robinson, sitting alone in the gloomy tavern. The scene and discovery shocked Ro. Just the fact that such a phenomenal athlete — one who, at one time, was the talk of his hometown — had faded into such doleful obscurity was disheartening to Ro, who knows the history of sports in NOLA as well or better than anyone, especially when it comes to black baseball.

True, in modern New Orleans, the American pastime is, in many ways, an afterthought; once the Saints arrived and LSU turned into a pigskin power, football has reigned supreme in the bayou. Add in the fact that the city has had two NBA teams, and hardball just doesn’t have the appeal it once did. (We’ll see if the Baby Cakes can help change that this year. Oy.)

Johnny Wright’s story has also intrigued me as well, so much so that I was concerned that he, like so many other Negro League greats, was buried in an unmarked grave, so I decided to find his burial spot.

Fortunately — and this is what I was hoping for — Wright was given a full military burial, including a modest but proud grave marker, among family members in Providence Memorial Park in Metairie, which also includes the final resting places of musical legends Mahalia Jackson and James Booker, among others.

While I was working on my story on Wright for Baseball America, I made contact with a few of his descendants, but I was unfortunately unable to speak with any of them in depth. Since then, a multitude of other stories and projects have filled my calendar and to do lists, and I haven’t had a chance to follow up and speak with them.

I hope one day I can, because there’s so much I, as well as many other baseball history enthusiasts, want to learn about a man who not only starred on the mound but also served his country.

Oh captain, my captain …

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Sam Lacy

A year or two after I graduated from Indiana University with a bachelor’s in journalism, I was searching for inspirations and influences, role models and heroes, people in the news industry — past or present — to whom I could look up and pattern not only work after, but my life and my worldview.

It was around that time that I had a revelation, in the person of Sam Lacy, the longtime sports writer/reporter/columnist/editor at the Baltimore Afro-American. From that point on, Lacy was among the brightest lights in my journalistic firmament.

In my last post, I did my best to compose a tribute to one of my other major influences, Dr. William Wiggins, who passed away just this past December. In this commentary, I want to trace how Lacy impacted my work and my life.

And I feel it’s critical that Sam’s legacy — not just on me but on the world of sports journalism as a whole — be detailed and recognized at this crucial juncture in the history of our nation and our media.

Twenty years ago, Lacy was inducted into the Writer’s Wing of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, a milestone that also came exactly 50 years after Jackie Robinson’s crossing of the Major League Baseball color line. But history — including, most recently, the Robinson biopic, “42” — has, in a way, skipped over the challenges Sam Lacy faced in and out of the press box, how he persevered, and how his triumphs impacted history.

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While “42” prominently featured the role Pittsburgh Courier writer Wendell Smith played in helping Jackie to survive that brutal first season and aiding in the general public’s acceptance of Robinson in the “mainstream” of the national pastime.

That was undoubtedly appropriate, because Smith did, to a large extent, lead the way in clearing a path for Robinson in Organized baseball. There’s a reason Smith, in 1993, was the first member of the black press to receive the Hall’s prestigious J.G. Taylor Spink Award for excellence in sportswriting.

But some members of Sam Lacy’s family apparently wasn’t happy with what they saw as the movie almost completely overlooking Lacy and the key role he played in baseball integration. Of course, for the purpose of the movie’s narrative, it might have made storytelling sense to streamline things as much as possible.

But it seems unfair that Lacy was left out. After all, four years after the venerated Smith received the honor, Sam became the second (and so far, last) such journalist to garner the Spink Award.

And, perhaps, that’s what it took for America and its sports pages to recognize Sam. It was at that point that larger society, and not just readers of African-American newspapers, came to understand Lacy’s importance on journalism and sports as a whole. The Washington Post, for example, ran a lengthy article by reporter Kevin Merida profiling Sam’s career and outlook in June 1997. The headline for the piece was, “Going to Bat for Robinson: Venerable Sportswriter Sam Lacy Helped Change the Face of Baseball.”

In his story, Merida noted how Lacy’s Spink accolades prompted a flurry of recognition for Sam, including an appearance on “Nightline” and an honorary degree from Loyola College of Maryland. Such honors, Merida penned, were absolutely overdue:

“Such attention is rare for a member of the black press, but Lacy is unique. He has become, by virtue of longevity and talent and wit, the oral historian for a group of crusading black scribes who played a little-known role in desegregating the big leagues. …

“Sam Lacy has outlasted the curmudgeonly owners he went up against, as well as most of his sportswriting colleagues, black or white. Indeed, he is said to be the nation’s oldest working journalist.”

That point right there presents one reason why Sam made an impression on me — his persistence, advocacy and zeal didn’t stop when the majors were integrated. And, years later, it didn’t slow up when he suffered a stroke.

He kept pursuing his passion for what’s right and just until practically the day he died, May 8, 2003, at the spry old age of 99. That’s 99! And he completed his final column for the Afro just a few days earlier. It literally took death to pry Lacy away from his trusty pen and paper. That devotion to his craft and to his readers is something that deserves admiration from any sportswriter — I’m certainly in awe of his inexhaustable work and dedication attempting — attempting to hone his or her craft.

I’m not the only one in the Negro Leagues community who draws lessons from Lacy and remains awed by his unceasing doggedness. One of my other role models, Leslie Heaphy, wrote in a 2008 essay in the journal “Black Ball”:

“He worked almost to the end, continuing to write about the glories and indignities he saw in the sporting world. Looking through the thousands of columns that he wrote over eight decades of reporting one sees a pattern of agitation, chronicling and championing causes. Whether it was pushing to get hotels desegregated for the ball players or encouraging Mr. [Clark] Griffith to desegregate the lowly Senators, Lacy gave up and never turned his back on what he thought was right. He helped keep the Negro League players and lots of other athletes in the press when the mainstream papers ignored them.”

Over his eight-decades-plus (another !!!) career, he didn’t just cover baseball in his popular column, “A to Z.” His advocacy spanned just about every major sport, from boxing (such as his coverage of Cassius Clay’s controversial membership in the Nation of Islam and transition to Muhammad Ali) to football (he lobbied tirelessly for the hiring of minority coaches in college and the pros) to golf to basketball to horse racing and everything in between.

There’s point of admiration No. 2 for me — a breadth and depth of interests and abilities that gave him such a multi-tooled flexibility and adeptness that his impact was felt across the sports spectrum. His ability to change gears, to shift on a dime to the pressing issues of the day just astounds me. I sometimes feel like writing solely about the Negro Leagues and baseball history can be exhausting and knotty. But Sam did it all, and he was always, always invigorated about his topic du jour. He even took on international issues, like American athletes participating in events in South Africa during the apartheid era.

In an August 2010 commentary on the Web site “The Sweet Science,” for example, writer George Kimball detailed Lacy’s coverage of Joe Louis’ heavyweight career, especially the roller coaster highs and lows experienced by the Brown Bomber. Kimball specifically relates how, at the 1941 title bout between defending belt holder Lewis and white challenger Buddy Baer — a searing fight eventually won by Louis via a heated disqualification in Lacy’s hometown of Washington, D.C. — esteemed Washington Post scribe Shirley Povich personally escorted Sam from the “colored press” section to a prized ringside seat.

For those and other exploits, Lacy joined Povich in the first class of recipients of the now coveted A.J. Liebling Award established by the Boxing Writers Association of America. But, in his 2010 piece, Kimball rightfully lamented how Lacy had yet to be ushered in the “observers” section of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, a slight Kimball stated “that should … be addressed, and at the earliest possible moment.” Astoundingly, the omission still hasn’t been rectified.

In fact, some historians and writers believe Sam’s first major scoop was about pigskin, not horsehide, while he was a beat writer for the Washington Tribune, a since-folded black weekly, in 1937. Sam sniffed out that star Syracuse University signal-called Wilmeth Sidat-Singh wasn’t what the public was told and believed he was.

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Wilmeth Sidat-Singh

Singh had been born to African-American parents, but after his father died, Singh’s mother, Pauline, married an Indian (i.e. South Asian) doctor named Samuel Sidat-Singh, who then adopted Wilmeth and gave him a new surname. Because of that — and because America’s sportive segregation allowed Indians to play with whites — Wilmeth, a black youth, “passed” as a South Asian during competition, even being dubbed “the Manhattan Hindu” by the press.

In the fall of ’37, the Orangemen were scheduled to travel to College Park to square off against the segregated squad from the University of Maryland. Heading into the game, Lacy uncovered a shocker — that the light-skinned Wilmeth Sidat-Singh wasn’t actually Indian but African-American, a discovery that prompted Maryland to, well, lose its shit and refuse to take the field against an opponent with a black player. The result? Previously unbeaten Syracuse, sans their leader, was blanked, 13-0.

Thanks to its upended of racial stereotypes and mores, wrote Sports Illustrated writer Ron Fimrite decades later, the episode laid bare the two-faced, irrational, bigoted reality of our country’s athletic industry, turning fans’ (and writers’) perceived reality on its head. It was a stunning series of events triggered by Lacy’s unwavering pursuit of the truth, even if that truth really mucked things up on the sports page.

On top of his amazing versatility, Sam’s writing was deft, often subtle and consistently penetrating. He wasn’t a big fan of melodrama or sentimentality, eschewing flourishing bravado in favor of a fearless poke in the eye. He preferred to be plainspoken and no-nonsense, driving write at the point and stating his case in such a point-blank way that you had to pay attention. He could be blunt, almost making the reader uncomfortable with his honesty and caustic wit, even when that honesty might have peeved someone — or many people — off.

Take, for example, a column from 1939 (and re-published in 1994 in the excellent compilation of legendary reporters’ work, “Black Writers/Black Baseball”), in which he questioned insistence of lobbying for the entry of “colored” players into the major leagues while omitting one key facet of such an action. Wrote Sam:

“In fact, every corner has been surveyed, every stop-gap plugged by people who sought to lend a hand in the [desegregation] campaign. Even major league club owners have been quoted and league presidents solicited. The [major] leagues, from the commissioners on down to the players, have been canvassed for their views on the matter.

“But no one seems to have given a tinker’s damn about the ideas of the guys they’re trying to boot into the organized game [emphasis mine].

“The colored player, evidently, is big enough in the mind of the public in the mind of the public to make top-line baseball, but too small to have any worth toward opinions on the matter. …

“Since man first became endowed with conscience and a sense of appreciation, he has felt keenly elated at the prospect of getting something Why the, shouldn’t the colored player be interrogated on the proposal to open big league ball to him, something we think [italics in original] he wants, but never bothered to ask him [original] whether he does?”

Sam continued the column by displaying his aversion to hypocrisy and doublespeak by going ahead and interviewing players himself, doing the dirty work that other journalists and baseball figures shied away from. And the responses were revelatory, uncovering a level of skepticism on the part of the rank and file about the prospect of integration.

From Vic Harris’ prescient foreshadowing of blackball’s eventual death, to Jud Wilson’s pessimism about the South’s recalcitrance toward integration, to Dick Lundy’s weary cynicism, Lacy’s interviews revealed a complexity to the issue that rarely, at least up to that point, broached. He laid bare the stark fact that the prospective integration had more to overcome than just timidity and reluctance. He even showed Felton Snow’s doubt in the Negro Leagues’ best players’ ability to “act right” [his words] and his belief that “[M]any of the good players are bad actors …”

That column puts on full display Sam’s understanding that lofty ideals were always marred, at least partially or albeit temporarily, by stark, gloomy reality, and he was bold enough to tell his readers something they might not have wanted to hear.

Of course, Sam could be very optimistic and upbeat, too, and he knew that, with persistence and quiet dignity, anything was possible. As Associated Press writer Alex Dominguez explained in a 1991 profile of Lacy, the columnist attempted — and usually succeeded to lead by example, a trait and willingness that earned him the respect of and acceptance by his white colleagues. That positive reception was exemplified in 1948, when he became the first African-American member of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Dominguez’s article included comments from an interview with Lacy, who accepted all the (belated) accolades he was starting to receive by deflecting many of them toward his colleagues.

“I did pioneer. I fought for it, but I can’t take the credit for doing it all,” he told Dominguez.

Later in the article, Lacy recounted a now-famous tale of adventure in a press box in one of the press boxes he visited while covering Robinson:

“I was told I couldn’t go in the press box. That happened quite frequently, like in Cincinnati, for example. I took a chair up on the roof. Shortly after I got up there, several of the white writers came up along with me.

“‘I said, ‘What are you guys doing?’ They said they came up for some sun. They showed they were supporting me. They had just come from Florida and certainly didn’t need any more sun.”

Dominguez’s piece concluded with another comment from Sam, this one representing a prescient summary of his career — and the history he helped to change:

“I was not particularly interested in my personal achievements. What I wanted to do was open a door for someone else. I felt we would never have Blacks in the Baseball Writers Association if we didn’t have one in [the press box].”

When Sam Lacy died in 2003, the tributes from his colleagues and acolytes poured forth as they noted the passing of a man whose quiet confidence and unwavering search of the truth and what was right. One of the most prominent modern inheritors of Lacy’s legacy is award-winning New York Times commentator William Rhoden, whose “Sports of the Times” columns picked up the socially conscious torch that Lacy ignited so many years ago.

Like Lacy, Rhoden — who is one of my favorite writers working today — has never been intimidated by popular opinion and hostility from pundits, the public and the athletes he covers. (Check out his incendiary book, “Forty Million Dollar Slaves,” and the combustible reaction it received from certain quarters.)

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William Rhoden

In a May 17, 2003 column, Rhoden feted one of his sportswriting forefathers, describing Sam as, perhaps, journalistic equivalent of a construction worker who rolls up his sleeves, puts on a hard hat and uses a jackhammer — in this case, his caustic, cutting pen — to dig into the foundation of the matter. Wrote Rhoden:

“Through Sam, I learned that this was a nose-to-the-grindstone business — if you worked the way he worked. And I liked the way he worked. Someone asked me whether Sam showed me the ropes, but he essentially told me that there were no ropes, just a long, hard road littered with challenges.”

“Sam was a crusader; I became a crusader.”

Later in the column, Rhoden penned a paragraph that both lauded Lacy as a visionary but also revealed that the recently passed legend was also human, a curmudgeon who sometimes suffered from a “these kids today” attitude.” Wrote Rhoden:

“Lacy was part of a generation of African Americans who believed that struggles or movements were larger than the needs and wants of one individual: larger than Jackie Robinson, larger than Joe Louis, larger than Muhammad Ali, larger than the younger generation of athletes he didn’t always understand.”

Such a comment encompasses why sportswriting and historical perspective are necessary tools to producing vital, pertinent, pressing journalism — a trait I’ve tried to cultivate myself during my career, with admittedly less success than Sam — but also how clinging to the past and failing to update one’s beliefs and principles can sometimes prevent you from adapting to the ever shifting mores of sports and of society.

And yeah, that’s my worldview to a T, largely because studying and writing about the Negro Leagues and the grueling but ultimately successful process of integrating the national game. As Negro Leagues historians, almost by definition, must couch and contextualize our work through the prism of the racial and social injustice that marred our American society for so long.

Taking a magnifying glass to the annals of this country’s darker eras necessitates such a longview perspective. Becoming a good Negro Leagues historian and writer simply must include the elimination of sociopolitical myopia as well as the discarding of rose colored glasses. We must, by our nature, confront our nation’s psychological demons and the ways they have, in a way, permanently scarred our society and our sport.

And doing that also requires us to study and analyze the groundbreaking work and writings of such legends as Sam Lacy, Wendell Smith, Fay Young, Bill Nunn, Dan Burley, Chester Washington and many others, for they’re the ones who not only helped change our national consciousness but also served as scribes and chroniclers who record that evolution for later generations to enjoy and interpret.

One such chronicle is Sam’s autobiography, “Fighting for Fairness: The Life Story of Hall of Fame Sportswriter Sam Lacy.” For me, while player autobiographies — like the revelatory and celebratory “I Was Right on Time,” by Buck O’Neil and “The Black Lou Gehrig,” by Buck Leonard — no doubt serve as both an inspiration and a wellspring of knowledge and wisdom — it was “Fighting for Fairness” that probably impacted me and my career the most.

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Sam’s book recounts, in exquisite detail, every step of his journalistic experience and growth, from his hardscrabble youth (he was himself a multi-sport star as a young adult) in Washington, D.C., during the first two decades of the 20th century; through his early columns for the Chicago Defender in the 30s; his coverage of Robinson and Rickey and steamrolling integration; the indignities of being refused service and refuge at hotels and restaurant; through his later crusade for diversity in the front offices and coaching staffs; through the turbulent 1960s; and everything that came after, such as receiving long overdue awards and accolades from his peers, the public and the sports industry.

Throughout the tome, Sam sprinkles bits of social commentary amongst his recollections, placing each chapter in the context of the day and the hurdles he and his contemporaries had to clear along the way. Take this excerpt from the third chapter:

“In the mid-1930s, black sportswriters kept tabs on what was going on in their own communities and in national sports involving blacks; at the same time, we tried to keep the heat on that period’s racial segregation in sports.”

Or this from Chapter 8:

“Leadership in the major leagues of basketball, baseball, and football were hard to come by for black coaches and managers, even after years of integration. My efforts to promote the hiring of blacks for these jobs over the years included providing Afro-American readers with running accounts of the hiring of whites, some over and over again even though they were consistently posting losing records — the old retread system.”

And how the press often serves as a surrogate for the public interest and and its frustration with the dual realities of athletic arrogance and crippling hypocrisy:

“One didn’t have to be a sportswriter to realize that athletes suffered a lot of self-induced tragedies. Sometimes other players took it upon themselves to purposefully endanger opposing competitors. Sometimes the jeopardy evolved out of doing what other Americans did with impunity. Pleasant or not, no matter how news came down the pike, I had to deal with it.”

Such a piercing objectivity seems more necessary than ever today, when modern journalists and their work are being assailed as “fake news” and “enemies of the American people.” The media as a whole suffers — partially self-induced and deserved, undoubtedly — from abysmally low approval ratings from the public and is constantly forced to fend off and absorb body blows from countless entities and individuals who have zero respect for and trust in what they do and their profession. We face an open hostility — again, a big part of it earned — and misunderstanding about the intricacies and complications of what we do, and our efforts are frequently upended by a flood of “alternative facts” and outright fiction.

In this day and age of social media and blogs and Web series and podcasts, it seems almost impossible to discern what pioneers like Sam Lacy — or Grantland Rice or Red Smith or any other pillars from our past — would think about the nature and flow of information swirling around American citizens. For an old-timer like Sam — who, until the day he died, wrote his columns in longhand with his pen (a pen!) — it all would be baffling and overwhelming, not only because technological innovations weren’t his thing, but also because our modern media are often virtually devoid of the kind of straightforwardness and stark, clear-eyed analysis that Sam employed to elicit the change and evolution that our society so desperately needed at the time.

The world has changed so radically, for the better and for the worse, since Lacy’s heyday, that it almost warps reality persistently plagues it with bigotry, angst and spite.

Sam saw such distortion and obfuscation for what it was, and he slashed through the haze and smoke and mirrors to record history accurately and frankly. That simply isn’t happening today, and I’d imagine that such a dismal state of journalistic affairs would dismay Sam, but only to an extent. For someone as brave and dedicated Sam Lacy, it would just be another monstrous monolith just begging to be torn down and turned to rubble. He’d do what he did for eight decades — roll up his sleeves and get shit done.

Sam concluded his autobiography with an expression of humility and self-realization, another two traits I have attempted, however humbly, to assimilate into my work:

“Celebrity is all right for some people. I don’t like it. In all honesty, I can’t claim to have done anything to justify all the attention, though I do appreciate it. In the case of baseball integration, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I think that anyone else situated as I was and possessing a bit of curiosity and concern about progress would have done the same thing.”

That paragraph right there is so sublimely insightful, candid and reassuring that I can’t help but be encouraged and invigorated by it; not only is it saturated with modest, self-effacing analysis of his own person, but it also reflects a deeply held belief that anyone, if given the right tools and possessing an inquisitive spirit and desire for enrichment, can succeed on a personal level as well as a society-altering level.

For me, Sam Lacy was and is a hero, a teacher, a role model, an inspiration, someone I would dearly love to have met and asked for a word or two of a wisdom and acuity earned through a long lifetime of swimming against the current, bombarding the bastions of injustice, and delving into one’s own soul as a reflection of the society and reality around him.

My mentor, my friend

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Farewell, Doc

Every so often, I’d like to tell y’all about some of the folks who’ve influenced me over the years, people who sparked the interest in the Negro Leagues that have driven me to promote the rich blackball heritage. These are the guiding lights in my life, my career and my passion …

The first pillar of my faith was undoubtedly Dr. William Wiggins Jr., the longtime fixture in the African-American Studies Department at Indiana University; he was even a founding member of the department’s faculty and eventually spent a lengthy tenure as its chairman. He arrived in Bloomington in 1969 and became the first African American to earn a PhD in folklore.

Doc Wiggins, as he was affectionately known to his peers and his students — and there were thousands of them over his tenure — taught numerous classes at IU over the years, but his most enduring and popular ones were the Black Church in America, and Sports and the Afro-American Experience. (His pursuit of the former class sprang from his own experience as an ordained minister and holder of a bachelor’s degree in divinity.)

It was the latter in which I enrolled during my sophomore (or maybe it was my junior) year at IU. Being a lifelong sports fan and a beat writer — I covered football, track and legendary Little 500 bike race (made famous by the movie, “Breaking Away”) on the sports desk at the Indiana Daily Student — athletics was my thang. (Well, along with listening to and learning about music, a love I pursued by taking two rock ‘n’ roll history classes taught by Glenn Gass and Andy Hollinden, but that’s another tale for another day.)

So taking Doc Wiggins’ sports class was, well, a no-brainer. We gathered at Woodburn Hall, one of the older buildings on the IU campus, and I quickly learned that my classmates included track triple jumper Jack Sullivan, with whom I’d become friends by covering the tack squad, and Calbert Cheaney, who earned the Wooden Award during his senior season playing under Bobby Knight. (Insert chair throwing joke here.)

And it was that class that opened up the world of sports history to me and fed my mind with both knowledge and passion. We learned about boxing icons Jack Johnson and Joe Louis (the Brown Bomber was one of Doc’s research specialties), Olympic trailblazers Jesse Owens and Wilma Rudolph, path-clearing net luminaries like the great Althea Gibson and and influential activist Arthur Ashe, and, of course, Jackie Robinson.

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Joe Louis

But in addition to soaking up the events and characters that made the history of black sports legendary, the course went deeper, exploring the social, political and economic ramifications of the challenges, trials and tribulations faced by African-American athletes. And not just the stars in the black sports firmament, but the average Joe and Jane who used sports to escape dismal childhood situations and attempt to become somebody in the world.

We traced the development and evolution of African-American activism in athletics and learned about the figures who helped show people that sports wasn’t just games, but a vital thread in the fabric of American society. We started in the 1960s with Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, Jim Brown and others.

Perhaps most importantly, at least in terms of influencing my worldview, were the efforts and determination of Dr. Harry Edwards, who spearheaded the black athletes’ consciousness movement in the latter part of the decade, a drive that culminated with the Olympic Project for Human Rights and the famous, hand-raised protest made by Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the medal stand for the 200 meters event in Mexico City in 1968.

I then read Edwards’ seminal tome, “The Revolt of the Black Athlete,” which proved to be one of the most eye-opening books I’ve ever read. (Hopefully more on that in an ensuing post.)

The class then dived into the way collegiate athletics — especially high-profile sports like football and men’s basketball — often mouthed false promises and lip service to starry eyed players who were led to believe that they had a chance to become a well paid professional in the NFL or NBA. Countless athletes, however, eventually learned the were simply and cynically be used and chewed up by “The System,” a process that included the downplaying and outright discouragement of academics, which left them unemployed and without a college degree by the time the machine had spit them out.

The course also delved into one of the key issues (one that is often alluded to in popular discourse but rarely broached candidly and honestly) of African-American sports stardom — why black athletes seem to succeed in certain roles in certain sports like football, baseball and basketball, i.e. are they simply just genetically disposed to be better than whites at running, jumping and catching?

It’s a topic famously (or infamously) raised by football prognosticater Jimmy the Greek in the 1980s, one that got the sportscaster fired in disgrace — not, I think, because his comments weren’t explicitly racist or bigoted, but because American society continues to be so squeamish when it comes to facing up to such challenging, uncomfortable topics that we avoid them at all costs. In the class, our discussion of this tricky subject revolved around the excellent examination by John Hoberman, “Darwin’s Athletes.”

And … most pertinent to this here blog is that Sports and the Afro-American Experience became my first exposure to the Negro Leagues — when Doc began discussing Jackie Robinson’s life and career, he revealed to us and to me the overlooked but extremely crucial role blackball played in American sports history. By learning about Jackie, we also took in the Negro League team that launched his professional career — the one and only Kansas City Monarchs.

The floodgates open at that point … Satchel. Cool Papa. Buck (Leonard and O’Neil). Rube. Effa, Monte and Ray. It was only the beginning for me.

As part of the curriculum, we read Rob Ruck’s detailed, delightful book, “Sandlot Seasons: Sport in Black Pittsburgh,” which, of course, included whole chapters about the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords.

That pretty much clinched things for me. Doc Wiggins had created a thirst in me that continues to this day.

During my senior year, I received an honors grant to research none other than Josh Gibson, a project that led me to read Mark Ribowsky’s bio of the Black Bade, “The Power and the Darkness,” as well as William Brashler’s popular novel, “The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings.”

But there was more, much more … Upon graduation, I moved to Rocky Mount, N.C., the hometown and lifelong residence of Buck Leonard. It was an opportunity I naturally couldn’t pass up, and I visited Buck at his home, a pursuit that instantly became one of the greatest moments of my life. (More on that encounter coming soon.)

While working for The Daily Southerner newspaper in Tarboro, N.C., I wrote an article about the induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996 of pitcher Bill Foster, who lived in Tarboro for several years and hurled for semipro teams based across the Tar River in the historic town of Princeville.

Life progressed after that, and I shifted around the country, moving from North Carolina to Massachusetts to my hometown of Rochester, N.Y. But I kept in touch with ol’ Doc Wiggins, even writing a profile about him for Indiana Alumni Magazine.

The article focused another way Doc remained dedicated to the student body at IU — for decades, he served as a mentor and father figure for dozens, if not hundreds, of student-athletes, helping to guide them through the challenges of balancing the field and the classroom and keeping them on the straight and narrow toward earning a degree and becoming functional, productive and happy members of society as a whole.

In the process, Doc became a valued and trusted advisor and confidante to several IU sports coaches, including none other than Bobby Knight, but also football coach Bill Mallory (the greatest pigskin pilot in IU history) and revered track/cross country coach Sam Bell, who died last year at 88.

When I interviewed Doc for my story, we met in the stands at Memorial Stadium in April as he eyed the football team going through spring practice. It was an overcast, drizzly day. Doc sat leaning on his cane, clad in a plaid wool jacket and dispensing wisdom earned over a lifetime of challenges and successes.

Doc again actively entered my life in 2001, when I returned to Bloomington to attend grad school, an experience that including being a student and TA in both the School of Journalism and the African-American Studies department, the latter of which brought me close to Doc once again as a mentor and advisor. During my second year of grad school, I even served as a teaching assistant for the very same class that launched my passion — Sports and the Afro-American Experience under Doc’s watchful eye and tutelage. I remember conducting a discussion section about the importance and impact of Curt Flood’s fight for free agency.

In addition, I wrote two magazine articles for which I interviewed Doc Wiggins, one about the NCAA and the other about the Milan Miracle, the season that served as the basis for the movie, “Hoosiers.” (My article argued that the movie carried subtle racial undertones and overshadowed the more important 1955 Indiana high school champion team, all-black Crispus Attucks High School, feature a young Oscar Robertson. Actually, harkening back to Doc Wiggins, I read the book, “But They Can’t Beat Us,” by Randy Roberts for his class.)

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The Big O

Over my four years of grad school, Doc and I became close friends, and his sage advice and insightful wisdom guided me through my own life challenges. And, through it all, Doc never changed … his bald head fringed by crops of graying hair, eye glasses shifting from his nose to the hands, his eyes closing when deep in thought and conversion, his sly chuckles when making a point, his lumbering gait, his dry wit, his vast storehouse of knowledge … He also had a hip replacement while I was on campus, which made him more mobile and put a spark in his step as he approached 70.

When I had mostly completed my master’s degree coursework, my neighbors and family threw a graduation party and picnic for me, and, naturally, Doc attended, and he was ebullient and proud of my accomplishments and determination. As a graduation gift, he gave me a copy of Toni Morrison‘s, “Love,” a novel that’s still on my bookshelf today.

That party in May 2005 would be the final time I saw Dr. William Hawthorne Wiggins. Since finishing my master’s I’ve regretfully only returned to Bloomington once, and I sadly failed to keep in adequate touch with Doc over the years. I was lazy and self-absorbed, and I know regret and rue my apathy and inertia.

Late last year, another figure who proved vital to my development as a writer and critical thinker, John McCluskey (from whom I took a grad level class about literature in the Harlem Renaissance), emailed me to tell me that Doc wasn’t doing well health wise, a slow decline now accelerating as 2016 came to a close. He urged me to call Doc’s family, but with the holidays coming up, I shamefully neglected to do so.

Doc Wiggins died on Dec. 24, 2016, at the age of 82.

Tributes to the Indiana University fixture immediately poured forth, including comments posted to his obituary on Legacy.com. One former teaching assistant of his opined:

“I am saddened beyond belief by the loss of ‘Doc,’ who took me in as part of the flock he watched over when I moved to Bloomington. I remember his fondness for all things IU, especially the basketball team. I was one of his teaching assistants for his Intro to African American studies course one year, and I learned lessons that I carry with me today, almost 20 years later. The IU and Bloomington communities have lost one of its great ambassadors and the world is a little darker …”

Penned a fellow faculty member:

“Bill was a truly wonderful individual who always brought a smile from those around him. He made an enormous difference in the lives of so many students, staff and fellow faculty at IUB. He was a big man with a big and open soul. I will miss his smile and warmth, but will keep his spirit always.”

Several students also brought forth and verbalized their sadness. One wrote that Doc “made a huge impact in my student life at IU and continued to be a source for advice and inspiration even after my years at IU. No matter what you may have been going through he was always there for encouragement and had a joke to go along with it to make you smile.”

Another student stated that Doc “encouraged me beyond belief, one of my favorite professors at Indiana University. My deepest sympathies to his family,” while another said with bittersweet fondness:

Yet another pupil said:

“Dr. Wiggins will be deeply missed. He made a huge impact in my student life at IU and continued to be a source for advice and inspiration even after my years at IU. No matter what you may have been going through, he was always there for encouragement and had a joke to go along with it to make you smile. My prayers and support are extended to [his wife] and the family.”

Possibly the most eloquent, heartfelt elegy came from Dr. Fernando Orejuela, a faculty peer in Indiana’s Department of Folklore (Doc was an adjunct professor in folklore, possessing his PhD in that subject), who highlighted Doc’s impact on minority students and staff and on the IUB administration, which often followed Doc’s lead in making IU a more welcoming place for black and other students:

“For many of us who partnered with him as students, he was more than a great teacher. He was a very necessary mentor, and his mere presence and gentle-but-enormously-firm demeanor was all we needed to get straight and keep our eyes on the prize. During the tumultuous late 1960s and early 1970s and at a time when Bloomington was very unwelcoming of Black students on campus, Bill brought his wife Janice and daughter Mary Ellyn to IU to complete his study of African-American folklore and folklife.

“Together, he and Janice vigilantly made Bloomington a good place for minority students to come study and live — often asking us protesting, minority students if there were any place in the United States that was free of racism. There was none. It was and is our duty to continue to make IU and Bloomington better for the next generation. Esteemed Professor William Wiggins Jr., professor of African American and African diaspora studies and professor of folklore, you will be deeply missed. Peace.”

After Doc’s passing, the Indiana Daily Student published an article marking his death and celebrating his incredible impact on those around him, his family, friends, peers and students. The story featured a comment from Professor McCluskey:

“He was a loyal friend, loyal colleague and loyal citizen. He was always finding the good in his students, the good in his colleagues and the good in his community.”

Doc Wiggins’ death hit me extremely hard. Not only did I experience the loss of one of my most beloved and influential mentors — and the man who introduced me to the glorious world of the Negro Leagues — but it came within days of the death of my grandmother as well.

His passing left a hole in my heart, especially because I neglected to make contact with him before it happened and thank him for what he had done for me — his encouragement and, more importantly, his faith in me as a scholar, a teacher and a human being. That will forever be one of my biggest regrets in life.

But with this commentary, I try to make up for that mistake, but bidding a tearful sullen farewell to my mentor and friend.

Goodbye, Doc, and Godspeed. Thank you.

Yeah, you can call it a comeback

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John Donaldson (courtesy Pete Gorton and The Donaldson Network)

Last night I dreamed that I was at a future edition of the Jerry Malloy Negro League conference. It wasn’t held at a hotel or convention center, but more like a church Sunday school room or a library conference room. It was maybe a dozen people, and we brought folding metal chairs into the room and clustered around the presenter while he or she discussed their topic.

In addition to we Malloy regulars, there were also of my high school friends, including my best pal as a kid, Steve, a lifelong Yankees fan. I remember in my nocturnal vision that we were a little disappointed in the turnout at this dream-state Malloy conference, and we were concerned that support for the Negro Leagues and their heritage were fading from people’s memory and losing modern relevance.

But while we were sullen and somewhat glum about the attendance, we were also charged up to hear the presenters and absorb the research and cool nuggets of discovery they’d unearthed over the previous year. We knew that, even though it seemed like enthusiasm for our shared American antiquity was waning, there was still boundless and rich baseball knowledge still out there, waiting to be discovered, savored and shared.

Then I woke up this morning, checked my email and learned that legendary — and legendarily underappreciated — blackball pitcher John Donaldson had been elected to the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, thanks to the persistence and optimism of The Donaldson Network, led by the unflaggingly dedicated Pete Gorton.

Upon reading Pete’s email announcement, the disquiet that my dream had caused was allayed with the balm of the Donaldson news, which instantly buoyed my spirit and revitalized my own flagging spirit, which had more or less crashed last fall after the onset of severe burnout.

For more than four years, I’d worked feverishly to write hundreds of articles and blog posts about the Negro Leagues and baseball history — done out of plain and simple love for the subject a passion to spread the good news about the Negro Leagues — and after sadly crashing and burning at the 2016 Malloy conference in Kansas City, I decided to take a big step back from my research and writing, which reluctantly included putting Home Plate Don’t Move into hiatus.

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John Donaldson (courtesy The Donaldson Network and Pete Gorton)

The decision triggered in me both relief and a sorrow. I knew I needed a break, but I also felt like I was letting down my friends, my colleagues and myself, and in many ways it made for a long, dour winter in which I recharged but also fretted that I was permanently losing my love for research and writing. It was undeniably an existential crisis — maybe even a midlife one, because, after all, I turned 44 this month — and it threatened to derail me for much longer than I ever wanted or intended.

But then … things started to turn around, little by little. I started to read more, to do a little poking around through online databases, talking a bit again with my peers and pals, and I gradually realized that it might be time to get back in the game, so to speak. I steadily realized that not only was researching, writing about and sharing the deep, vibrant history of blackball, but also that I needed to give myself a swift kick in the pants in order to jolt me back into action.

There’s another sign (besides my dream) from today that it’s time to dive back into business — earlier today, The Sporting News posted an article by Graham Womack to the magazine’s Web site titled, “Baseball Hall of Fame could do more for Negro Leaguers.”

The timing of the story is a bit puzzling, because the 2017 National Baseball Hall of Fame election results were announced several weeks ago, while this year’s induction ceremony isn’t until late July, but when it comes to advocacy for the Negro Leagues, we’ll certainly take whatever we can get.

TSN’s article recaps how the NBHOF revised its selection process recently to once again open the door to Negro Leaguers after a 10-year hiatus during which Hall officials steadfastly refused to consider allowing blackball figures following a huge induction class in 2006. (The newly revised rules also allow for the selection of other neglected subgroups of players, coaches and execs.) Granted, the revised rules allow for what seems to be just a trickle of additional Negro Leaguers over an extended period of time, but, again, we’ll obviously take what we can get.

Womack’s commentary also names 10 pre-1950 African-American hardballers who most deserve consideration for under the new guidelines — Buck O’Neil, Gus Greenlee, Donaldson, Bud Fowler, Spot Poles, Home Run Johnson, Newt Allen, Bingo DeMoss, Dick Lundy and Double Duty Radcliffe. Let the debate commence on who was left out of that admittedly solid list (Rap Dixon, Cannonball Redding, Bruce Petway, Oliver Marcell …)

Here’s an excerpt from Womack’s article:

“With Black History Month wrapping up Tuesday, here’s a plea to the Hall of Fame: Reconsider the policy toward Negro Leaguers. Negro Leaguers have not been honored in Cooperstown at anywhere close to the same level as white players and anyone who’s played in the majors since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier 1947. A number of outstanding Negro League players and executives remain outside Cooperstown. They deserve more than one or two inductions — at best — per decade.

So, I s’pose, I’m back, and so is Home Plate Don’t Move. However, at least temporarily, this blog will take a bit of a different form; instead of hardcore, intensive, detailed, third-person historical narratives and articles, I’m going to do more first-person work that discusses the efforts to keep Negro Leagues heritage alive and how those efforts, both on my part and on others’, have and continue to energize, enthrall and drive me.

HPDM will hopefully be more emotional, more visceral and more cathartic, a venture that lays bare my own soul — and how the souls of countless blackball figures continue to speak to and influence me, and to influence and motivate others like me.

It’ll be about the far reaching but still close knit Negro Leagues community of which I’m so proud and grateful to be a small part. We are all indeed quite lucky to have found this history, and to have found each other.

So, having said that, over the next couple weeks I’ll try to discuss the stuff I’ve been doing to keep the flame alive and the spirit fired, like looking for graves, reaching out to those with influence, and attempting to bring much deserved attention to and appreciation of the Negro Leagues, especially here in Louisiana and the Deep South.

And, as usual, feel free to post comments or email me at rwhirty218@yahoo.com! Thank you very, very much for sticking with me all these months, and may all of us continue to be inspired to do what we were born to do.

I’ll sign off with a intricate, challenging thought from one of the most important African-American sports advocates of the last 100 years, Dr. Harry Edwards. Dr. Edwards, a former track star who first sprang to national prominence in the late 1960s when, as a visiting professor at San Jose State, he co-founded the United Black Students for Action.

The USBA morphed into the groundbreaking Olympic Project for Human Rights, an effort that culminated at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics when Tommie Smith and John Carlos famously raised gloved fists while on the medal podium.

Shortly thereafter, Dr. Edwards wrote the seminal tome, “The Revolt of the Black Athlete,” and along the way he became close friends and fellow activists with Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Bill Russell and others.

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Dr. Harry Edwards

Since then, Dr. Edwards has continued and deepened his education, his writing and his activism, all of which has made an indelible impact on modern sports theory and thought. Most recently, Edwards, now a professor emeritus at UC-Berkeley, defended and contextualized NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s controversial decision to remain seated for pre-game National Anthem performances.

I learned about Dr. Edwards while taking Dr. William Wiggins’ class, “Sports and the African-American Experience,” while an undergrad at Indiana University in the early 1990s. (Doc Wiggins, one of my biggest influences and supporters during my career, sadly passed away in December, a crushing development that I’ll discuss in a later post.)

I subsequently read Dr. Edwards’ revolt, and while in grad school at IU, I conducted an email interview with him about racial favoritism within newspaper coverage of star baseball players. I hope to perhaps one day speak with Dr. Edwards again.

Anyway, here’s a couple paragraph from Edwards’ essay/study, “Sport within the Veil: The Triumphs, Tragedies and Challenges of Afro-American Involvement,” which appeared in the September 1979 issue of The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. As you read it, ponder its meaning and how it can apply to the study and promotion of blackball history, and what we as Negro Leagues advocates can do on that front.

Perhaps also examine how Edwards’ words and propositions fit into the context of the volatility of the unsettling current state America’s sociopolitical reality, i.e. the age of Trump:

“The historical pattern of black-white relations in America remains unchanged: blacks have always been the last hired, the lowest paid, and the first fired during times of general economic crisis. The black athlete, too, was the last to gain access to major sports, has always been the least rewarded to comparably talented whites and, it seems, will be the first eliminated at both the professional and collegiate levels as America’s economic problems deepen.

“It would appear, then, that not only the past history and contemporary circumstances, but the future prospects of the black athletes and the black masses are inextricably intertwined and interdependent. From this undeniable fact, there is no escape for either — by way of sport or any other route. It follows, therefore, that all concerned have a principle responsibility: first, to understand that Afro-America’s involvement with sport is no game, then to act accordingly.”