Another “unknown” in Douglass park

Tomorrow a large group of fans, philanthropists, historians, community activists, political officials and clergy will gather at Frederick Douglass Memorial Park on Staten Island to officially dedicate the grave stone that has been placed on the previously unmarked burial place of black baseball legend and Baseball Hall of Famer Sol White. Here’s my story on the event in the Staten Island Advance.

But there is much, much more work to be done at Douglass park, which is currently being nurtured back to health by a dedicated group of community advocates. But in addition to the massive task of bringing this historically vital cemetery back to life — which includes, for example, cleaning up and placing a marker at the grave of classic blues singer and “Queen of the Blues” Mamie Smith — there’s another significant Negro Leaguer who lies in an unmarked grave in the park.

That would be Elias “Country Brown” Bryant, a clever, slashing hitter in the 1920s or thereabouts. He was also one of the more famous “baseball comedians” in history, able to both change a game with his timely hitting as well as crack up the crowd with comic antics. Here’s what a 1926 article in the Amsterdam News said about Country Brown (he was playing for the Bacharach Giants at the time):

“With Country Brown and Roy Roberts on the coaching lines the fans are sure to be kept in good humor [in a game against K.C.] with their comedy antics and clever coaching. Brown, without a doubt, is the most comical player in the colored ranks and aside from his clowning stunts he is capable of playing a splendid article of ball.”

Unfortunately, Bryant’s saga didn’t end well whatsoever. At Christmastime 1937, Country Brown was killed when he was crushed in the head by his brother-in-law. Bryant was pronounced dead a short time later at Harlem Hospital and buried in a pauper’s grave on Staten Island at Douglass park, just like hundreds, if not thousands, of poor African-American residents of New York City. For more info about Country Brown’s death, check out Gary Ashwill’s blog entry on the subject, which includes the following vintage article:

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Help is needed to bring dignity in death to Country Brown, just like it will be tomorrow for Sol White. Please consider supporting either the Friends of Douglass Park or the Negro Leagues Baseball Grave Marker Project to further the effort.

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