Monuments, men, memory … and moving forward?

P.B.S. Pinchback

In New Orleans in the 1800s and early 1900s lived a gentleman and Confederate Army veteran — a former captain, actually, who served and was captured at the siege of Vicksburg as a heavy artillery officer — named Toby Hart. At the same time, there also lived in New Orleans another gentleman named P.B.S. Pinchback.

During the quarter-century or so following the end of the Civil War, both Hart and Pinchback played significant roles in Louisiana politics, culture and society. As it turned out, they were linked, albeit loosely, by the still-evolving, soon-to-be National Pastime — baseball, or as it was known way back in that day, base ball (two words).

New Orleans Times-Democrat, Oct. 11, 1874

However, Hart and Pinchback were very, very different in one significant way — in fact, one could argue that it was the only way that mattered in the post-war Deep South. Hart was (obviously, given his military service record) white. Pinchback was black. (To be more accurate, Pinchback was mixed race, or mulatto as was the lingo then.)

So how, then, given such a massive socio-political chasm, were the two gentlemen connected by base ball? Because Hart was instrumental in the development of base ball in New Orleans in the 1880s and, in particular, in the founding of the city’s very first professional sports team, the New Orleans Pelicans baseball club.

Before the team’s formation in 1887, Hart notched numerous base ball achievements, being a prime mover in the creation of the city’s Lone Star Base Ball Club in 1859, charter membership in the Louisiana Base Ball Association, guiding the push to build the New Orleans Base Ball Park, key involvement in the founding of the New Orleans Base Ball Association, and significant contributions to the early Gulf Coast League.

Until just this week, I’d honestly never heard that much about Toby Hart, even though I live in NOLA and have studied the 19th-century base ball scene here. Most of my research into said topic has been confined to colored base ball in the epoch, which is embarrassing, because a good historian does need to examine the full scope and backdrop of what he or she is detailing. I’ve known very well the crucial role Abner Powell, for example, had in the blossoming of the national pastime in the Crescent City, but, unfortunately and with some shame, I hadn’t made the acquaintance of Capt. Hart.

Abner Powell

Meanwhile, Pinchback — full name Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback — became the namesake for one of “colored” base ball’s first championship teams, the New Orleans Pinchbacks, who, in the late 1880s, not only dominated the hardball scene in the Big Easy, but traveled throughout the lower South and up through the Midwest as far as Chicago. In 1888, the Pinchbacks staked a claim to the national amateur colored championship.

Why was Pinchback important enough to earn the admiration of one of the country’s earliest black base ball successes? Because on Dec. 9, 1872, Pinchback, a Republican, became not only the first African-American governor of Louisiana, but the first black governor in the history of the entire United States.

This being the South in 1872, though, Pinchback’s governorship was both controversial and convoluted — and, it goes without saying, not viewed all that fondly by the state’s white populace. Era-wise, we’re dealing with the heart of Reconstruction, a time of carpetbaggers, scalawags, lynchings, agitators, midnight rides and scoundrels of all stripes. Pinchback’s assumption of the governor’s office was the result of political in-fighting, bureaucratic confusion and racial resentment, the full tale of which is too involved and (even to this day) a little too bewildering to explain or document in this blog post.

The same went for his eviction from the governor’s chair, an event that formally happened on Jan. 13, 1873, just over a month after his landmark swearing-in. Although Pinchback’s achievement was without a doubt extremely significant in our nation’s history, it remains controversial and murky even now.

Given federal support — led by the irascible, often less-than-sober President Grant and Radical Republicans in Congress — for Reconstruction, the fact that a black man achieved a governorship in the South wasn’t that surprising. Neither was his departure as Jim Crow was settling in and white Southerners seized absolute power in the region. So, then, Pinchback’s legacy was, in one way, memorialized by the dozen or so colored guys who proudly formed the Pinchbacks base ball club.

This recent flurry of thought on my part has been stirred mainly by the current chaos this city, New Orleans, has witnessed over the last week or so. Granted, in many ways NOLA is all about chaos, but in a good way. We are a people who are loosey-goosey and hang-loosey. Our unpredictability and zaniness is both a source of immense proud and an essential part of who we are as a community.

But the chaos lately has been of a much darker, foreboding nature. It’s been turmoil that, tragically, exposes a painful truth about where we as a city, as a state and even as a entire country find ourselves — even 152 years after Appomattox, even almost that long since Toby Hart helped forge baseball in the Big Easy and P.B.S. Pinchback inspired a stellar base ball team, a searing, seemingly irreconcilable philosophical, cultural and historical chasm still plagues and haunts us.

For what seems like an eternity now, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu — a member of a powerful political dynasty in this state — has pushed for the demolition and removal of four statues that have stood as testaments and tributes to an era of white supremacy in the South that stretched back before Jamestown up through at least the 1970s.

It’s a shameful, harrowing legacy that — regardless of whatever Jeff Sessions, David Duke and other alt-righters espouse — still lingers and even pulsates at this very moment. (Yes, I know that Jeff Sessions is different from David Duke, but let’s be honest, not all that much. He’s also not technically a member of the alt-right, but again, we’re parsing details. If you think that statement is an outrageous smear against our current attorney general, well, then sad day for you. Suck it.)

The four segregationist statues memorialize three pillars of the Confederacy — Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and P. G. T. Beauregard — and the despicable “Battle” of Liberty Place, an instance of local white insurgency in 1874 in which a mob of violent members of the paramilitary White League and similar types attacked black New Orleans police officers and National Guard troops and seized control of the city for three agonizingly long days.

The riot helped signal the end of Reconstruction in the city and the growing, ominous pall of Jim Crow, segregation and virulent white supremacy. And notice that the flash of violent anarchy occurred just a year and a half after Pinchback blazed a trail in American society.

(Please, at this point, spare me also any moaning that these racist, violent insurgents from 1874 were all Democrats, which “proves” that it’s been the Democratic Party all along has been and to this day continues to be the racist bunch in this country. I don’t really have the time, energy or patience to once again dive into an explanation about the complexities of history and the fact that stuff, you know, changes over said history. Stuff it.)

The Battle of Liberty Place

Well, actually, that last monument doesn’t exist anymore; as many of you might have seen or read, city workers — protected by cops in snipers and bulletproof vests — last week tore down the Liberty Place memorial in the wee hours of the morning. The action signaled Landrieu’s tenacious, unflagging commitment to removing the four reminders of segregation (even though that process will apparently cost a lot more than what he had projected and touted to the public).

Naturally, the covert removal of the Liberty Place monument spurred white reactionaries — cloaked in the same tired, half-baked and utterly transparent notions of “heritage, not hate” and “it’s white culture that’s ever only done cool stuff for civilization” espoused by such shining American lights like Richard Spencer, Louisiana’s own David Duke, and honorable luminaries Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms, Trent Lott and, yeah, Jeff Sessions — to protest the covert, admittedly somewhat weasely razing of the monument.

So now we have infuriated defenders of the segregation-era Southern legacy — many of them armed to the proverbial teeth with semiautomatic rifles and buttloads of magazines in the name of the Second Amendment and open carry and all that stuff — and equally irate, kind of irrational proponents of cleansing the city of these historical memories, all squaring off at the Davis Monument. There’s been bottles hurled and epithets spit out and cops called in an orgy of discontent, distrust and vitriol on behalf of all parties.

“The Civil War is over,” the mayor said. Which is absolutely true. So is Reconstruction. So is (minus some scattered remnants) Jim Crow, at least officially.

But the resentment isn’t. The stereotyping isn’t. Neither is the bigotry or the hatred or the ignorance. And neither is the complete and largely universal societal unwillingness to adhere to such seemingly basic, fundamental tenets as the Golden Rule and walking a mile in others’ shoes.

The recent disheartening events here in New Orleans have definitively proved that. Here’s what happened just today. I wasn’t there, but it appears as though the NOPD kept things more or less calm. But it took lots of metal barricades and closed-off streets and a heavy police contingent. Just a quick comment about that link — note that the pro-monument schmuck quoted early on said white people built this country. We know that’s absolutely fudging false. (Slaves did the heavy lifting, the back-breaking toil at the end of a whip and the barrel of a gun. Never mind the fact that it was white supremacist Christians who stole the entire continent from the people who were already here, but that’s another closet of skeletons.)

So has the ugly, unraveling national backdrop against which our events here are unfolding. The last two years in our country have been surreal (at best) and nightmarish (at worst), a downward spiral of insanity and a warping of reality that have mutated the fabric of our society and the strength of our democracy.

For the last few months, as a baseball researcher and writer, I’ve been in many ways trying to view the tempest through an historical lense, to place into context our current events against the surge of our collective past and the role the American pastime has played in the development of our national consciousness.

And without a doubt, baseball has played a key role in that process. Our national sport has been a vital avenue for different ethnicities to assimilate into and become welcomed by our country and its heritage. For a century and a half, Irish, Italian, Jewish, Asian, Latino and other immigrants and newcomers have slipped on their mitts, laced their cleats and wrapped their fingers around the horsehide, and in doing so they’ve helped our nation realize that they are all simply people too, with shared desires and needs and goals and challenges and aspirations. Likewise, Native Americans, who witnessed nearly their entire population and culture wiped out by genocide, have found solace and healing on the diamond.

Even African-Americans were able to take a this burgeoning sport and make it their own, to place their stamp on the game and have the game impact their lives in myriad ways. As the terms changed from colored to Negro to black to African-American, baseball was a source of pride and resistance, a way to proverbially spit in the face of oppression, to see the waving of rebel flags and the blinding flames of crosses and the failure of the Senate to formally outlaw lynching and defy the ignorance and arrogance of those who would call them lesser people, the cursed sons of Ham, a group of folks who just aren’t smart or moral enough to meet the challenges of governance and self-sufficiency.

Baseball gave Oscar Charleston — a man who had volunteered for military duty and served his country despite the rigid segregation within the Army in which he served — to reportedly rip the hood off a Klansman’s head and stare the coward down toe-to-toe.

The sport allowed Satchel Paige, a lanky Negro from Mobile, to become one of the most famous and fabled athletes of his day, an irresistible magnet that drew thousands of white fans to Negro League games and see for themselves the pitcher who could lick any major league hurler and make the heads of the best white sluggers spin with perplexed wonder. Satchel, by force of his ability and his charisma and characteristic flair, demanded attention from the entire country, and he more than earned it.

Baseball is what, in April 1947, forced white society — and the nation as a whole — to finally begin to accept that African Americans were not ashamed, and they were not afraid. The shit that Jack Roosevelt Robinson endured, the indignities and insults and verbal venom that he deflected with stoic pride … it was silenced by his bat, and his glove, and his feet, and his character. When he made white pitchers and catchers look foolish over and over again by audaciously stealing home and daring them to stop him, the entire country — the entire world — paid attention.

Here in New Orleans, baseball served as a conduit for a humble hotel proprietor named Allen Page to build an athletic and entrepreneurial empire through his ingenuity and moxie. Allen Page came to be respected by this entire Southern city by taking what meager scraps tossed to blacks by Jim Crow and becoming one of the most important baseball kingpins in the South, someone who regularly hosted not just hardball heroes but even the Brown Bomber, Joe Louis himself.

And Page even did former Confederate officer Toby Hart one better. Where Hart brought the Big Easy its first professional baseball team, Page delivered the city its first, and so far only, major league level baseball team, when in 1940 he enticed the St. Louis Stars of the Negro American League to split their time between that metropolis and the Crescent City.

As the city’s black population geared up for the New Orleans Stars’ home opener against the Cleveland Bears in July 1940, Eddie Burbridge, sports editor of the Louisiana Weekly (New Orleans’ primary black newspaper) dubbed it “the greatest day in the history of Louisiana baseball.”

Eddie Burbridge

A parade, complete with hundreds of cars and a whole bunch of Boy Scouts in formation, preceded the game. Even as black America’s athletic messiah, heavyweight Joe Louis, was in the midst of absolute dominance in the ring, the Stars still garnered front pape ink in the Weekly. On the sports page, Burbridge wrote:

“This is the thing we have waited for, and the thing we should proudly support. … Come out, fans. Pack Pelican Stadium until it creaks, so that this dream that has become a reality will stay with us from now on.”

Alas, it didn’t last; the Stars changed locales a few more times before closing up shop in 1943, in the middle of World War II, as hundreds of local African-American men and women contributed to the war effort by putting together thousands of Higgins boats in the city’s seven such plants.

But the fact that it was a black businessman who brought the best baseball players in the country here — in addition to the arrival of the Stars, for 30 years Page produced dozens of exhibitions and all-star games featuring the best Negro League teams and players in the country, with clubs like the Homestead Grays and Kansas City Monarchs bringing legends like Satch, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Ray Dandridge and Hilton Smith, Hall of Famers all — should absolutely not be lost to history. In fact, the work of Page and his assistants stands as one of this city’s shining historical examples of black pride and ingenuity. That’s right. It was black baseball in the South that made us proud.

But moving on … it was here in New Orleans that, in 1965, Tulane baseball player Stephen Martin became the first African-American student-athlete in the history of the vaunted Southeastern Conference. That’s not just first black SEC baseball player. That’s first black athlete, period.

Stephen Martin

Oh, and by the way, the 1950s showed that African-American baseball fans in New Orleans and the rest of the state were some of the most committed and successful sports-related activists in the country. In 1956, after ever-progressive Louisiana banned integrated sporting events throughout the state, black sports followers (and a few sympathetic white activists) in New Orleans launched a mass-scale boycott of sporting events here and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern Association minor-league baseball circuit continued to stubbornly and blinded refuse to integrate its roster (beyond a few token “tryouts” that were identified very quickly as shams and PR bullcrap). The team’s pedigree traced all the way back to — yep, you got it — Confederate Capt. Toby Hart’s efforts in 1887, and during the ensuing 70 years, the Big Easy franchise remained ensconced in segregation.

Even a dozen years after Jackie Robinson led the Brooklyn Dodgers to the World Series in his rookie season, even 11 years after the Cleveland Indians won the World Series with Hall of Famers Larry Doby and Satchel Paige on their roster, even after most other minor league circuits integrated, and even after Henry Aaron and Willie Mays and Roy Campanella and Roberto Clemente and numerous others had become superstars … the New Orleans Pelicans wouldn’t budge.

(In fact, the Pels even rejected the idea of loaning their stadium to a collegiate game between Loyola University and Xavier University, an HBCU in the city. The bigotry was that petty and obstinent.)

I mean, the New Orleans black population began to hate the Pelicans. In a 1956 newspaper column, none other than Jackie Robinson relayed this potent memory:

“When [the Dodgers] played in New Orleans during spring training the Negroes in the stands booed every time they announced something about the New Orleans Pelicans. They booed so loud, in fact, that the rest of the announcement might just as well not have been made. …

“Because of that, they put some kind of unofficial boycott on the team and they are not going out to the ball park. At the same time they are doing everything they can to make people realize that if they expect them to come out and see baseball then they will have to give them somebody of color on the team.”

So, at the same time a massive boycott against Jim Crowed sports in the state in general gained traction, black New Orleanians doggedly refused to patronize the Pelicans. Plus, even white NOLA baseball fans eventually got tired of being deprived of the best quality hardball the sport could now offer; even strident bigots get curious when integrated teams are winning World Series and black players begin dominating league MVP voting.

The intractable indignation worked — from a high of more than 400,000 turnstile clicks in 1947 (hmm, what else happened in the baseball world that year?), the Pelicans’ attendance plummeted to less than 100,000 just nine years later.

What followed was an attempted sale of the team in 1957 and rumors that the Pels were about to go under. With fans of all stripes avoiding Pelican Stadium in droves, the franchise that had been launched by a Confederate captain breathed its last after the 1959 season. To say the local black populace and press was giddy would be an understatement. Louisiana Weekly editor Jim Hall, who had been at the forefront of the sports boycotts, offered this terse but beautiful requiem: “Nuf Sed about Jim Crow Birds.”

An unsigned editorialist for the Weekly went a bit further, and it was delicious:

“Not a fit of weeping was found among the local Negro baseball populations, when the Grim Reaper claimed New Orleans’ Double A ball club …

“They (the fans) did not express or feel grief or sorrow last week, when … the local coroner’s report listed the Jim Crow Birds officially dead.

“Instead, there was a jovial feeling among the tan fans, for this corner listed the the apparent total lack of fan interest as one of the prime causes of the Birds’ death. …

“Negro fans who had supported the Pels for years, put into effect a ‘Stay-at-Home’ policy. The solid support of the fans not to attend any of the home games began to hurt the club at the gate. In the past, it had been the Negro patrons’ attendance which had kept the Birds in a healthy financial state.

“But without their support at [the] turnstile … the Birds began staggering on the ropes. …

“Their passing of the Pelicans was by no means unexpected. The Negro fans did not mourn the loss of team, for there was no sympathy for the team which had slapped them in the face with segregation.”

Damn. As Jim Hall would say, nuf sed.

But wait, there’s more … Just as the Pelicans dropped dead, so did their former circuit, the Southern Association. Because, just like the Pels, the league also refused to integrate at all — none of its teams ever featured any color whatsoever. Zilch. The demise of the Pels and several other teams weren’t enough of a harbinger for the clods in the Southern Association.

Thus, after 60 years of existence, in early 1962, the Southern Association — one of the country’s oldest and most storied minor leagues — finally folded up its bigoted tents and collapsed under its adament, dogged and ultimately stupid and self-dooming unwillingness to integrate.

Seems that the brouhaha started by NOLA fans in 1955 spread like wildfire to the entire rest of the Southern Association. Because, until its dying breath, the SA virulently and foolishly refused to allow any black players (except for Nat Peeples, who played a token two games with the Atlanta Crackers in 1954), and it cost the league its livelihood and its fans their smug sense of superiority.

The reaction of the black community, including the press, was a gleefully familiar one. Wrote Cal Jacox of the Norfolk New Journal and Guide:

“There will be no weeping and wailing here for the death … of baseball’s Double A Southern Association League.

“True to tradition, its team owners went down fighting to keep their lily-white status. They insisted on maintaining the status quo and, from here, the loop’s departure from the baseball scene … is good riddance to a lost cause.”

(It should be noted that in addition to plummeting attendance, another effect of this staunch refusal to accept the inevitable flow of social change was Major League teams’ skittishness toward signing any more minor league affiliation agreements with SA teams, leaving the Southern loop squads to twist in the wind of their own segregated flatulence. That was true of the Pels, who found themselves without a parent club by the late 1950s.)

(Another note: the 1950s sports boycott in Louisiana also proved one of the death knells of the Evangeline League, a low-level minor circuit with teams throughout central and southern Louisiana that earned a joyous reputation as a freewheeling, anything-goes operation that made the league both famous and notorious. When Evangeline teams fell under the blanket of the state government’s disastrous athletic segregation law, they, much like the Pels and other SA teams, were besieged with boycotts, too. Unlike the larger league, the Evangeline provide a bit more pliable in terms of its policies, and some integration did occur in the loop. However, the Evangeline died out in the 1950s, a demise that owed just as much to the advent of home air conditioning, televised baseball than and, umm, a gigantic corruption scandal as to racial issues. I can personally attest to the fact that it’s really hard not to like the Evangeline League. For one, yes, it was a little more progressive than the Southern. But the EL was just gloriously wacky. But, digressing …)

Finally, it was baseball — or, rather, base ball — that spurred a group of “colored” men in New Orleans to form what became one of the most powerful teams in the country under the moniker Pinchbacks. The nascent national game provided not just those men, but the entire black populace an opportunity to express cultural pride in the first African-American governor in our country’s history.

The Pinchbacks carried the banner of their race every time they took the field, especially those times when a good chunk of white New Orleanians turned out to watch the black men’s prowess. New Orleans’ African-American population attached themselves so much to the club that when the Pinchbacks’ trekked northward to play challenge matches in St. Louis and Chicago, several carloads of fans caravanned with them.

The Weekly Pelican, one of the city’s earliest African-American newspapers, chronicled the Pinchbacks’ travels as well, frequently referring to the club as “our boys” or “our team.” When the aggregation departed for the Windy City in August 1889, the Pelican, under the headline, “They Are Off!” reported on the intimate connection between the colored squad and its fans”

“The Pinchbacks are composed of the best players in the South, and no doubt will hold their own with the Northwestern clubs. … As an evidence of the appreciation of their many friends for past favors the Pinchbacks will give a grand complimentary festival at the Young Veterans’ Hall to-night. One thousand invitations have been issued, and no doubt the affair will be an enjoyable one.”

In a slight deviation from the overall national trend in base ball in the 1880s toward rigid segregation, New Orleans ball fields frequently featured match games between colored teams and white squads; it was a phenomenon that, much to the city’s credit at the time, revealed the Crescent City’s relatively more fluid mores when it came to race.

Weekly Pelican, July 6, 1889

That included the Pinchbacks, who once in awhile crossed bats and held their own with white squads like the Ben Theards; the contests routinely drew several hundreds of fans — none too shabby before the days of bleachers and grandstands — and the Weekly Pelican roused the black community into supporting “our local champions.” For one July 1889 contest against a white team referred to only as “the New Orleans league team,” the Pinchbacks battled for a purse of $300 and all the gate receipts from the game. The Pelican previewed the match:

“The Pinchback’s [sic] are composed of our best colored players here and no doubt will make a credible showing against the Southern League champions.”

(Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any record of the game’s results.)

However, such relaxed social conventions, even in New Orleans, didn’t last long; by the start of the 1890s, the curtain of segregation had ended any sort of formal, integrated activity on the ball field.

(Many thanks to James Brunson for guiding and encouraging me in my 19th-century colored base ball research.)

Honestly, I wasn’t playing on writing this much about the details of these examples of New Orleans racial breakthroughs and triumphs, but producing this essay reminded me just how freakin’ awesome this shit was. So my apologies.

At this point I should stress that I don’t exactly mean to completely slag off to massive contributions men like Toby Hart made to baseball and to New Orleans history. What they achieved was significant and quite impressive. It showed determination and a passion for the national game at a time when the game needed it the most — at the beginning, when it was still struggling to lay down roots.

But it’s also quite difficult for me, as a writer and historian of African-American baseball, to view Hart’s accomplishments without a jaundiced eye. It’s simply impossible for me to examine what they created and sustained for decades without factoring the bigotry and fear that were one of the pillars of those accomplishments.

Every time I read local newspapers and their coverage of baseball from the first half of the 20th century — and, in fact, even earlier — how can I not make a note of the last sentence of so many articles: “A portion of the stands will be reserved for white fans.” It’s a sentence that Allen Page had to include in every single press release he sent out, and it’s one every black baseball fan here had to read if they wanted to learn the latest dope about the Black Pelicans or the Algiers Giants or the Jax Red Sox.

And now, here we are in 2017. Here we NOLA folks are, watching with a mix of incredulity and anger as fighting breaks out around some statues. Many of us know that it makes our city look ridiculous and backwards, and we are ashamed of it. The Stars and Bars clashes with Black Lives Matter, the future collides with the past, and misunderstanding and fear cast a pall over our city. The fact that this is all going on during Jazz Fest — one of the crown jewels of our local culture and something that draws thousands of tourists and their spending money into our confines — only serves to deepen our collective black eye.

However, to be sure, the Civil War, including the role it (and its aftermath) played here in New Orleans, is a complex one, replete with necessary nuance and (no pun intended) shades of gray.

Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard

Take, for example, P.G.T. Beauregard himself. True, he was a successful and revered general during the war, but what often gets lost is that, post-war, Beauregard adopted extremely progressive beliefs and stances, especially for a white Southerner. He pushed for equal rights in the state and even large-scale integration. (In that way, he was like Gen. James Longstreet, another highly decorated Confederate officer who commanding police and other forces in New Orleans during the Liberty Place riot and helped defend and shelter the victims of the violent mob. A year later, he and his family were forced to leave the city for health and safety concerns.)

So perhaps Beauregard should be regarded not as a villain, but a hero here in New Orleans. Instead of tearing down his statue, what about editing or reworking the plaque statement on it to stress what he worked so hard for after the war?

And, to be fair, maybe Capt. Toby Hart wasn’t a virulent racist either. Maybe he even worked to help the local freedmen. Maybe he was just a guy who served his country, then went back to civilian life and admirably dove into promoting and nurturing baseball in his home state. I’m not sure, and if anyone could provide any further information, it would be very welcome.

Or, then again, maybe Hart was just a step above Confederate Gen. Nathaniel Bedford Forrest, who was intimately involved with the early KKK. Or, for that matter, former Union Gen. George Custer, who, before his just comeuppance at Little Bighorn, made it his mission to wipe out as much of the indigenous population as he could.

And, yeah, Jefferson Davis — who died here in New Orleans but eventually had his remains moved to Richmond — remained unrepentant about his actions and his white supremacist beliefs.

Meanwhile, only 62 African-Americans dot big league rosters today. That troubling condition might not have a direct correlation to the aftermath of the War Between the States, but just about every modern race-related issue is to a certain extent rooted in slavery and Jim Crow.

Seventy years after Jackie Robinson stepped out on Ebbets Field, our sport is losing his spiritual and athletic descendants. The reasons for that exodus are many and complex, and even noble, successful programs like Major League Baseball’s Urban Youth Academies (including one here in NOLA at Wesley Barrow Stadium) have only begun to address the crisis.

But there seem to be few Allen Pages or Jim Halls or New Orleans Pinchbacks. They’ve vanished, and we have no idea if they’ll ever truly or fully come back.

This rambling diatribe has been an attempt at drawing a link between my passion for baseball history and what I’ve unfortunately been seeing daily here in my adopted hometown, and tracing a connection from the power of protest and pride to our country’s bleak social and political landscape. Whether I pulled that off in a coherent manner is probably debatable, but I gave it a shot.

Quite often, when our modern news outlets retreat, as they are wont to do, into the false, manufactured urgency of imagined 24-hour news cycles and a blinding need to stay relevant via tenuous, slipshod reporting and legions of unnamed sources, I like to slip out the side door and dive into online archives and databases of newspapers from eras and mindsets past.

True, such slinking away into antiquity and anachronism is, in a way, just a desperate man’s desperate attempt at finding some sort of sanity away from the jumbled, acidic reality of today. It’s escapism, simply put.

But it’s also what I love, and it’s what I do to (kind of) pay the bills. I take solace in the triumphs of yesteryear, and I derive comfort in the refreshed knowledge that at some point, we could find our way to justice, fairness and even, if we really put our minds to it, virtue.


4 thoughts on “Monuments, men, memory … and moving forward?

  1. Pingback: New Orleans and the NNL’s centennial | The Negro Leagues Up Close

  2. Your article was great and revealed a lot of things about early New Orleans baseball that I didn’t know, but…Why would you even hint that Hart might be a racist? He lived during a period when racism was rampant, but that doesn’t mean anything about him personally, any more than it means any of your ancestors living in the 1800’s were racists.
    And where did you come up with the comment about Nathan Bedford Forrest? Just a miniscule bit of research would tell you that he was a figure-head leader who had almost no involvement. If you are going to put something down in writing, I suggest that you do enough research to corroborate your ‘facts’.

    I mean…to be fair.

    “And, to be fair, maybe Capt. Toby Hart wasn’t a virulent racist either. Maybe he even worked to help the local freedmen. Maybe he was just a guy who served his country, then went back to civilian life and admirably dove into promoting and nurturing baseball in his home state. I’m not sure, and if anyone could provide any further information, it would be very welcome.

    Or, then again, maybe Hart was just a step above Confederate Gen. Nathaniel Bedford Forrest, who was intimately involved with the early KKK.”


    • Hi Scott, thank you for reading and for commenting. You definitely make pertinent points, and I’ll admit that I didn’t do much research about Forrest or Hart, and that my discussion of them in the context of the subject of the post is definitely coming from a specific point of view. My blog is from my point of view, and I admittedly approach my writing for the blog with a certain philosophy and belief system. Regarding Forrest only being a figurehead: if that was the case, I’d say that regardless of the depth of his involvement, he still put his name and reputation as representative of the Klan’s underlying philosophy. He wouldn’t put his name on the organization if he didn’t believe in the organization’s beliefs — in this case, white supremacy and violent repression.


      • The Klan was a very different thing at it’s inception, which is when Forrest’s name was attached to it, as you say, as a “figurehead”. I had the same preconceived notions as you; however, researching ‘Reconstruction’ led me to research the Klan, at which time I discovered that it evolved into something that Forrest completely disavowed. He was never intimately involved, and only even ‘officially’ involved for a short time. I would be curious to see the correspondence between Forrest and the initial organizers, to see what he ‘thought’ he was signing up for.

        But, as I said, I loved your article – my g-g-grandfather was a soldier in Hart’s company at Vicksburg, so I’ve tried to find as much as I can about both of them. I suspect more can be found in the Civil War records of various members of his command, and even his superiors, which often include surprisingly detailed accounts of various war-related events. Definitely got some new and very interesting info from your blog, so thanks.

        If there are any ‘Negro League’ related books that you have not been able to locate, feel free to contact me – I have a fairly in-depth library, as fifteen years ago I was working on articles about early Chicago and Kansas City semi-pro teams. Makes me wonder if you and I haven’t been in contact at some point in the past?


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