As is often the case with long-gone African-American players who are beneficiaries of the nationally known Negro League Baseball Grave Marker Project, it took some doing on part of project volunteers to find a relative or descendant of Clarence “Waxey” Williams.
But Harrisburg activist Calobe Jackson Jr. did it. He found Mrs. Elaine Williams Barker in the Lancaster, Pa., area. Waxey, a catcher who died in 1934 in Atlantic City and is buried in an unmarked grave there (at the time there were apparently financial difficulties getting his body back to his hometown of Harrisburg), is Mrs. Barker’s great uncle on her mother’s side.
Clarence is currently high on the NLBGMP list, and with Jackson coordinating the effort on the Harrisburg end and baseball history enthusiast Michael Everett working diligently to raise funds on the New Jersey end, the project to give Waxey a burial stone — and, at long last, dignity in death — is moving swiftly along.
NLBGMP officials and volunteers would obviously prefer if relatives of the beneficiary player could be present at the grave marker dedication ceremony, and it looks like that might happen with the discovery of Elaine Barker.
And, she says, if the Waxey grave marker effort does come to fruition, she might not be the only one of Clarence’s kinsfolk there for the ceremony.
“I’d like to be there if there’s nothing pressing I have to do,” she says. “I’d like to be there and bring lots of family members.”
She says the second sentence with a laugh, subdued but still gleeful. Elaine says she knew she had a famous baseball player in her family tree — she actually read up on Waxey and discovered a great deal online — but she wasn’t aware of the anonymity of his final resting place in Atlantic City.
“I didn’t realize he didn’t [have a grave marker],” she says. “Calobe told me that [Clarence] did live in Atlantic City, but I didn’t know the specifics of his burial.”
Mrs. Barker said she never knew Waxey Williams personally, but just from what she read about him.
“Oh no,” she says when asked if she had met him. “He was dead long before I was born. The only things I know are what I’ve read in books and online.”
Baseball seems to run in the Williams’ family’s blood. Another earlier relative, Robert Williams, was also a pretty good ballplayer, Elaine says, as was her own father.
But Waxey was the star of the family, the supreme defensive backstop with the colorful personality, quirky personally history and a penchant for boosting his team’s morale and getting under the skin of their opponents. The fans in the stand always loved to see Waxey take the field — although some fans, possibly spurred on by racism, grew to loathe Clarence Williams and his antics.
But love him or hate him at the time, Waxey Williams certainly made his mark on baseball history.
“That really makes me know that we have someone interesting in the family,” she says. “It makes me feel good to have someone who was a famous ballplayer.”
Mrs. Barker says she’s grateful that the NLBGMP and its volunteers are working diligently to honor her great uncle.
“I’m really looking forward to this,” she says. “The kids are elated, and I know I’m elated.”