It’s lunch break at the second day of the Jerry Malloy Conference in Detroit, and I needed to fire off a quick post because there were five excellent presentations this morning — things were jammed-packed.
We had Bryan Steverson speaking animatedly and quite entertainingly about Cool Papa Bell and his time in Detroit. The most intriguing facet of Bryan’s talk was theoretically extrapolating what Bell’s time would have been in the 100 meters race, then comparing that to current sprinting legend Usain Bolt.
Todd Peterson gave a very detailed and fascinating chronology of the Page Fence Giants in the last decade of the 19th century. Todd is probably the leading authority on this trailblazing barnstorming aggregation and one of the top experts in the country on African-American baseball in the Upper Midwest.
I personally enjoyed Karl Lindholm’s presentation about 19th-century Harvard baseball star William Clarence Matthews, whose life — in baseball, in law and in politics — is entrancingly rich and deep. I’ll try to get a link to one of Karl’s essays on Williams online.
Probably the presentation that was proceeded by an air of mystery was Missy Booker’s talk about Booker T. Washington and baseball. The question everyone was wondering beforehand was, “How will she link Washington to the grand old game, because popular knowledge doesn’t mention him as a particular sports fan or one of baseball specifically?” Well, she made the connections and showed, quite resourcefully, that Washington did indeed support the national pastime.
But, I have to say, the highlight, so to speak, of the morning’s talks was that given by Lawrence Rushing, who very powerfully asserted that Jackie Robinson despised and derided the Negro Leagues and even had a subtle air of superiority of thinking compared to the average African American. The comment by Rushing that caused the most tittering in the audience was that Effa Manley, in effect a white woman, had more sympathy for the black condition and civil rights than Jackie Robinson did.
His talk prompted a comment from an audience member that kind of forced Rushing to note that any of Robinson’s perceived psychoemotional failings off the field in no way detracts from his great achievements and legacy on the field. Rushing then compared Robinson’s controversial sociopolitical views, comments and actions to the fact that Martin Luther King’s string of mistresses and adulterous affairs of course didn’t take away from everything he did to change our country and the world.
Well, that triggered an explosion of commotion amongst the audience, a mixture of bemusement, outrage and general gasping and guffawing. Malloy co-chair and conference moderator Larry Lester then playfully yet firmly reined things in and commented that Jackie was, at the base of it, a very complex man with many, many mental, emotional and psychological layers. In essence, Larry said, Jackie was simply human.
Spiritual perspective was also given by a quiet but authoritative comment from Mrs. Nettie Stearnes, who quoted the Biblical prophet Ezekiel to underscore what both Lawrence and Larry were saying. Her elegant words provided powerful perspective on, I feel, not just one man, but our entire society and the issues of faith, respect and honor.