This is New Hope Baptist Cemetery in Gretna, La. It’s less than a mile from my house. Buried there is Wesley Barrow, a legendary figure on the New Orleans Negro Leagues scene. He managed numerous pro, semipro and sandlot teams here for decades until his during Christmas 1965. When it comes to local NOLA blackball, there’s promotor Allen Page, player/historian/humanitarian Wilbur Wright, and Wesley Barrow.
Those are the Big Three, in my mind, of Big Easy African-American baseball. True, several excellent players and managers who went on to stardom in the top levels of the national Negro Leagues — Oliver Marcell, Dave Malarcher, John Wright, etc. — but Page, Wilbur Wright (no relation to John) and Barrow were the lifeblood of black baseball here. They were the driving forces over the decades.
Earlier this week I remedied an embarrassing failure on my part — even though I live less than a mile, in the two-plus years I’ve lived here, I never walked up the street to find Mr. Barrow’s grave and pay my respects.
So on Wednesday I visited the New Hope Baptist Cemetery and looked for the skipper’s grave. And looked. And looked.
I spent an hour combing the small burial ground from corner to corner, end to end. I climbed over fallen and cracked headstones, rudimentary piles of dirt that served as graves, bushels of weeds, countless gopher and ant holes. I even found an old pair of rain boots.
But I couldn’t find Wesley Barrow’s grave.
I could, though, have walked right by it. Many stones had engravings that were so weather-worn that the names and dates were illegible, and other monuments appeared to be unmarked. There were also numerous empty spaces of grass that had long, sunken pits in them. It was very, very disheartening.
Maybe I missed it. That could be. So I tried calling the New Hope Baptist Church of Gretna, which is only a few blocks from the cemetery. I called at least three times, and all I got each time was a barely audible answering machine message.
Wesley Barrow has been honored and recognized by the NOLA community, primarily by naming the beautifully restored baseball field in Pontchartrain Park — an historic African-American planned community that was destroyed during Katrina — after him. The stadium hosts youth leagues and a variety of other events, and it’s current the home of Major League Baseball’s newest Urban Youth Academy. Here’s a picture of it, from the NOLA Black Professionals group’s Web site, nolablackprofessionals.com (check out the site if you can, it’s pretty cool):
So it isn’t like Wesley Barrow’s immense legacy is being ignored here. It’s not. He is being recognized.
But the lack of a decent burial site, to me, is still very heart-sinking for a legend like Wesley Barrow. I’d like to take some steps to rectify that, so if anyone knows anything at all that could be helpful, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.