Snapshots of NOLA blackball

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I was perusing microfilm of the circa-1940 Louisiana Weekly for a story I’m doing, and I came across a few cool and/or weird things. One is the above picture of the 1939 Algiers Giants from that NOLA neighborhood. It includes one of the most important blackball managers in New Orleans, Wesley Barrow (after whom a beautifully renovated stadium in Pontchartrain Park is named), and my old friend Herb Simpson before he hit the big time. Note that Herb’s nickname in the photo caption is “Cool Papa.” His most well known nickname is “Briefcase,” but he apparently had a few others, including this one and, as I’ve also come across, “Lefty.”

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This sample is from July 1942 and features an article about a local NOLA team called the Jax Zulo Hippopotamus beating a squad of area stevedores. The photo above the article is the Zulo’s “ace hurler” named “Denzo,” who is adorned with the accouterments typical to these type of clowning, blackface teams, such as the Zulu Cannibal Giants, Ethiopian Clowns, etc. Note “Denzo’s” grass skirt and Sambo blackface. I guess in my mind these sort of teams were embarrassing minstrel shows that denigrated the otherwise-proud history of the Negro Leagues and African-American baseball.

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The clipping above and the one below are to show that the Crescent City did indeed have much big-time blackball come its way, most of it courtesy of sports promoter and hotel owner extraordinaire Allen Page, who was an underappreciated off-the-field “player” on the countrywide Negro League scene. He attended executive meetings of the Negro National League, attracted and promoted games between big-time squads like the K.C. Monarchs and Homestead Grays, he created the long-running North-South All-Star game, he owned numerous local teams, and he recruited NOLA’s only “major league” baseball franchise, black or white, the New Orleans-St.Louis Stars.

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Finally, just to add a quirky postlude … when going through old issues of the Weekly, I’ve noticed that many players went simply by nicknames, and not just members of clowning teams. There was, of course, the popular and fairly successful Black Diamond (real name Robert Pipkins), about whom I’ve always wanted to write and research, but there were also guys like “Iron Man” and “Black Snake,” and those are just the ones I remember offhand in studying black baseball in Louisiana.

I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face: New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana remain underrated and overlooked hotbeds of Negro League activity, and I love uncovering that history, by myself if I have to.

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