I spoke to Jeremy Krock last night, the founder of and driving force behind the nationally known Negro League Baseball Grave Marker Project, to just get an update on how the project’s efforts are going and what African-American stars of old are up next for a new grave marker.
And, as usual, Jeremy and the army of volunteers in the project are busy at work and trying to get to as many worthy candidates as possible.
“We’re kind of juggling a few projects right now,” Jeremy said with a touch of understatement.
He indicated that there are really two efforts in particular that are well on their way to completion this year. The one that’s probably the closest is Bill Francis, a sparkplug of an infielder who spent many years with the Chicago American Giants and several with the Hilldale Club, the Bacharach Giants and a few other teams, including one or two in Latin America.
I wrote a story on Frances for philly.com a couple years ago, but I think the link doesn’t work anymore. Because I’ve written about several of the NLBGMP’s efforts, Jeremy asked me to draft text for Francis’ headstone, which will be placed at his unmarked grave at Lincoln Cemetery in Blue Island, Ill. (There’s actually several completed and upcoming figures on the grave marker project’s list in that same cemetery.)
As is the case with just about every freelance story I turn in, my draft text for the Francis marker was a wee bit lengthy, and, as Jeremy said last night, “We still need to condense that a little bit.” But, he added, “That one will be done this year.” Another slight hangup is that no quality photo exist of Francis, so the Project will have to go against its usual protocol and install the marker without a picture of Francis.
The other effort well underway to completion this year is Clarence “Waxey” Williams in Atlantic City Cemetery in Pleasantville, N.J. Williams was a top catcher in the couple decades before and after the turn of the century.
Waxey Williams’ currently unmarked grave
SABR member and writer Michael Everett of Linwood, N.J., is spearheading the Williams effort, which was fortunate enough to find a group of willing donors, a situation that almost automatically sends projects to the top of the NLBGMP’s ever-growing list of hopefuls.
“We don’t really know when that will be completed, but it will be this year,” Krock said of the Williams effort. “We kind of take [the projects] in order. When we also get a big hunk of money from somewhere, then we do that project right then.”
Another Negro Leagues figure targeted as a beneficiary of the Project is semipro manager Fred Goree, who was brought to the NLBGMP’s attention by new SABR member Ron Auther, who posted an article about Goree on Auther’s excellent blog here. Goree’s story is truly a tragic one, and a burial stone would give him a much needed posthumous boost in dignity and respect.
One man on the list that I’ve taken somewhat of an interest in is Henry Bridgewater, a late-19th-century base ball, political and economic kingpin in St. Louis who died there in 1904 and was interred in an unmarked grave in St. Peter’s Cemetery.
Over time I’ve become fascinated by 19th-century African-American base ball (two words back then) teams, especially before the true professionalization of the “colored” game. Bridgewater owned such aggregations in St. Louis that were among the best in the country. Bridgewater was also quite a character, a saloon owner with his fingers in a lot of pies, including rumored connections to and involvement in the underworld.
Bridgewater was initially brought to my attention by SABR member, author and Northern Illinois prof James Brunson, the preeminent expert on 19th-entury blackball as I was researching the New Orleans Pinchbacks of the late 1880s.
In all, Krock acknowledges that, as time goes on, while the NLBGMP gives dignity and respect to more and more baseball greats, the list of candidates continues to grow at an even quicker rate, a situation that is both encouraging and disheartening.
“It’s a never-ending projected,” he said. “Whenever we get volunteers like this, they can share some of the workload to help out.”
For more information on the Negro League Baseball Grave Marker Project, click on the link above. To volunteer, e-mail Jeremy Krock at firstname.lastname@example.org or Larry Lester at email@example.com.