On Friday, Dallas native William “Bill” Blair (above, photo courtesy CBS Dallas-Fort Worth), who had died earlier in the week, was buried in Dallas, leaving behind a massive legacy of civil-rights advocacy and activism, as well as a huge imprint on African-American journalism not only in Texas, but across the country.
Blair’s accomplishments over his 92 years of life included:
• Attending Prairie View A&M
• Becoming the first African-American first sergeant during World War II
• Founding an expanding several influential newspapers in Texas, beginning with the Highlight News and running through The Elite News. His papers offered blanket coverage of African-American sports in Texas and the surrounding states, particularly college sports.
• Making memorabilia and other donations to UT-Arlington.
• Launched a local Religious Hall of Fame.
• Having a Dallas Park named after him.
• Tirelessly advancing civil rights programs and efforts in a state that has always been known for rocky race relations.
Part of his stated legacy also includes a rich career in Negro Leagues baseball, with online biographies claiming that he played several years with the Indianapolis Clowns, the Cincinnati Clowns, the Cincinnati Crescents and the Detroit Stars.
However, the actual historical record doesn’t exactly reflect an illustrious blackball career. In a quick database survey of newspaper coverage, I found that Blair, while certainly playing for numerous Texas based semipro teams, saw very little action on teams in other parts of the country and the higher levels of African-American baseball.
For example, I found no sources that list him competing for the Detroit Stars, although a couple articles list him as playing for the Detroit Senators for a year or two. He was also on the roster of the Crescents, but only for a year or two, and even then, it appears he didn’t seen the field too many times. In addition, he did play for the Indianapolis Clowns in 1948, but his name rarely shows up in box scores.
But that’s about it, as far as I could find. Again, I took just a cursory look of the major African-American newspapers of the day, so maybe other publications bear out that he did, in fact, have a decent career in the Negro Leagues.
But still, Blair’s baseball resumé appears to not measure up to the one that has been inflated by tall tales and self-promotion over the decades. That’s not unusual though — countless athletes of every sport and every ethnicity have been known to embellish their accomplishments when talking with everyone from grandchildren to interview journalists.
And it appears that the Dallas community seized on those tall takes and made Bill Blair into a more important ballplayer than he actually was.
But it’s at this point that I would argue that such a situation isn’t a bad thing — it’s actually a good, even historically important one. Blair’s reputation, however artificially enhanced, as a good baseball player and a hardy member of segregated black teams, allowed him to become an incredibly influential journalist, publisher, civil-rights advocate, humanitarian and philanthropist.
So what if his baseball career was seized upon by the Dallas community and made into something bigger than it actually was. That inflation of his hardball career led to other accomplishments that eventually had a much greater, and much more noble, historical legacy.
Bill Blair might not have been a great ballplayer, but he was an incredible human being, and that, in the end, is what truly matters.