As I continue to explore and push for recognition of the Louisiana and New Orleans African-American baseball scene, one figure I’ve particularly been drawn to is David Malarcher, who gained his best fame as the player-manager of the great Chicago American Giants in the mid- to late-1920s, when he led the squad to multiple Negro National League titles.
Malarcher became such a good on-field pilot because, at least managerially speaking, he was perhaps the first disciple of the legendary (and almost mythical) Rube Foster, the father of the organized Negro Leagues.
Malarcher also deserves respect for being known as “Gentleman Dave,” a Renaissance man who wrote several epic poems, graduated from New Orleans University (now Dillard University, as I wrote in this article for the school’s alumni magazine), and treated his teammates, opponents, umpires and just about everyone else with the utmost respect, courtesy and humility. He never drank, never smoked, never even cursed.
Because of that astounding blend of impeccable character and on-field success — and the fact that he played for the New Orleans U. hardball team as well as one or two NOLA African-American semipro teams before hitting the big-time — I’m going to nominate him for induction into the New Orleans Professional Baseball Hall of Fame. He’s more than worthy of the recognition and honor.
But now, even despite my lengthy article on Malarcher for the Dillard U. magazine, I’m running into major, major problems identifying and chronicling his roots and youth, i.e. where he came from. I’m finding massive amounts of conflicting information, and I’m not sure where to start laying out the muddled picture I’m getting.
But I’ll try …
Let’s start with the source of the multiple beliefs regarding where Gentleman Dave was born. We have serious contradictions in the published bios on him, particularly the online ones. Wikipedia, which refers to my article in the Web encyclopedia’s entry on Malarcher, asserts that he was born in Union Parish in 1894, probably based on the fact that Malarcher listed “Union, Louisiana” as his birthplace on his draft cards for both WWI and WW2.
I’ll readily admit that I jumped to the conclusion — incorrectly, I now see — that by “Union, Louisiana,” Malarcher meant Union Parish. Contributing to my reasoning was that there aren’t any current communities, either incorporated or unincorporated, listed in the state of Louisiana. That error was perhaps understandable but still unacceptable, and I regret that.
I likewise should have checked exactly where Union Parish is in the state. Turns out it’s positioned at the very north of Louisiana, bordering on Arkansas’ Union County. That places it extremely far away from New Orleans, making it somewhat unlikely that Malarcher would make the trek from there to attend school in the Big Easy.
So what did Dave Malarcher mean by Union, Louisiana? I think I’ve found the answer — there might not be a “community” with that moniker, but there is a Census-designated place (CDP) called Union, at the very least historically. It’s located in St. James Parish, which rests alongside the mighty Mississippi River, about 50 or so miles to the west of NOLA, making it much more likely that Dave trekked to New Orleans from there instead of Union Parish.
Now, in exactly the same place as what is — or, perhaps, what was — the CDP of Union is the modern CPD of Convent, which also happens to serve as the seat of St. James Parish. Convent is also, as luck would have it, the location listed as Malarcher’s burial place on the illustrious findagrave.com.
To be more precise, the Web site states that he’s buried at the St. James Methodist Cemetery in Convent. After making a few calls down to that area, I discovered that that citation refers to the burial ground at the current St. James United Methodist Church in Convent.
Given the growing confusion about Malarcher’s background — as well as the fact that so many Negro Leaguers are either interred in unmarked graves and/or have incorrectly listed birth places — I called the minister of the St. James UMC, Rev. Gaynell Simon to confirm that Gentleman Dave Malarcher, the baseball player, is indeed buried in the church’s cemetery. (He died in Chicago in 1982.)
After a few days, Rev. Simon called me back and said Gentleman Dave is indeed buried at her church, which, for the record has a congregation of about 40, according to the church Web site. Rev. Simon said she learned as such by talking to Dave Malarcher’s niece, who lives in Convent.
In fact, a whole slew of Malarchers live in Convent today, at least according to the online white pages, including, it seems, a nephew of Gentleman Dave named after him. Rev. Simon then said she will send me some church documents that will greatly illuminate Dave Malarcher’s personal background. I’m practically salivating in anticipation at the thought.
So aaaaaaaaall of this points to the notion that David Julius Malarcher was from what is now known as Convent, La., in St. James Parish. And I have more proof, too, in the form of U.S. Census records.
The 1900 Census reports that a Julius Malarcher is living in St. James Parish’s third ward with five siblings and his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Willie Malarcher, a farming family. Willie’s wife’s maiden name was likely, according to state marriage records, Noelic Goodberry; they wedded on Feb. 23, 1889, in St. James Parish. The 1900 Census lists Willie’s birthdate as 1857 and Noelic’s as 1961, both before or near the start of the Civil War.
Then, the 1910 Census lists the couple living in the same place with several children. Not among those offspring is David Julius, who was likely already in New Orleans at school. (I couldn’t immediately find Dave in the 1910 Census, though.)
So we have matters settled, right? Wrong. There are substantial hitches in this theory despite all the evidence I just outlined. First problem? That in the 1900 and 1910 federal tallies, the Malarchers are listed as … white! What?!?!?
And take the 1860 Census, which lists 3-year-old Willie — spelled “Wily” — living in Convent, St. James Parish, with his siblings and parents, Adolphe and Lilelia. The fact that Willie and family are even listed as citizens in the antebellum South seems to be a clue that the Malarchers of these documents are white and not African-American or even mixed-race.
But, umm, Gentleman Dave Malarcher was black. He played in the Negro Leagues. Below is a picture of him!
And there’s yet another inconsistency; namely, the fact that numerous biographies of Dave Malarcher — including ones from NLBM/KSU, Pitch Black Baseball and Baseball-Reference.com — state that he was born in Whitehall, La.
I know the inherent dangers of ever citing Wikipedia — often not the most accurate compendium — as a source of information, but for these purposes, I will (at my own peril). Wikipedia lists two “places” in Louisiana called Whitehall, one in Livingston Parish, the other in La Salle Parish, neither of which is particularly close to the Convent or Union CDPs.
It’s all quite puzzling, perhaps something that might not be solved until I receive the documents from Rev. Simon and travel to Convent myself to try to talk to some of the living Malarchers, something I plan to do very soon.
So, yes, this post will be the first entry in a series of posts about Gentleman Dave Malarcher, Negro Leagues great and prospective New Orleans Professional Baseball Hall of Famer. To conclude this one, I’ll defer to … David Julius Malarcher himself!
In his autumn years, Malarcher donated most of his personal papers to Dillard University, his alma mater. Included in these volumes is a personal life narrative told to seminal Negro Leagues researcher John Holway. Here is an excerpt or two from that regarding where Malarcher was from:
“I was born in 1894; that’s a long time ago, a long, long time ago. Union, Louisiana, that’s my home, about 57 miles from New Orleans and about 30 to 35 miles from Baton Rouge, right on the River Road, as we call it, Route 61. I was born right there, right under the Mississippi river levee. Anywhere from seven or eight years old, I used to swim in the middle of the Mississippi — man, we just had a ball. All of the kids, we just lived in the river. It was a wonderful life. …
“There were plantations all up and down the river, one at Burnside, and another three or four miles south, and then below our home there was one where my father worked, called Charbony. All of the people there were French people and very fine. We never had any difficulty with white people in my home. No sir, never. My mother in the later years became a mid-wife; she gave birth to them. It was a fine relationship. Not even a threat of lynching — no.”
But wait! More mystery! And it’s to be found in those same files at Dillard U. — clues that throw into question much of what I just wrote! Part 2 to come … let’s follow the trail.