Guest blogger John Graf (right) joins Charles Young at the historical placard at the Motown Museum. Photo courtesy of Larry Lester.
Editor’s note: Apologies for taking so long to get stuff from the Detroit Stars conference up on the blog. To start, here’s a guest commentary by researcher and frequent Negro Leagues-conference goer. John does a nice job at summing up what was indeed a magical few days in the Motor City.
By John Graf
The 100-year anniversary celebration of the formation of the Detroit Stars in 1919, one year before the launching of the Negro National League, was nothing short of magical. I could feel the magic that is in the air whenever and wherever our Negro Leagues history family gets together.
Two days’ worth of presentations provided a groove that was musically amplified Saturday morning with a tour of the Motown Museum. The gathering ended with an intimate look at the suffering of Tiger partisans this season as the home team, clad in Detroit Stars uniforms, went down to another defeat.
Those presentations were simply loaded with something for all tastes. There was Detroit general sports history (Mike “Tiger” Price), the 19th-century Page Fence Giants (Mitch Lutzke), Mack Park by the numbers (Kevin Johnson), the case for ranking the Negro Leagues as major leagues (Ted Knorr), a tour of the Negro League baseball card world (Gary Gillette), historic preservation and Hamtramck Stadium (Melanie Markowicz and Brian Powers), and a creative discussion of baseball and restorative justice (Vanessa Ivy Rose). Thursday was capped with a delightful reception that recognized Negro Leagues players and their families.
That’s not all. Nineteenth-century Black baseball was front and center once again Friday morning (James Brunson). The significance of Negro Leagues’ home fields (Geri Strecker) continued the theme of a sense of place that can capture the magic that was Negro Leagues baseball. The All-Time Detroit Stars Centennial Team was unveiled (Gary Gillette).
We were treated to an autobiographical journey through the career of Leslie Heaphy, one of a number of estimable “doctors in the house.” We had a discussion of the “Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings” film (Lisa Alexander) and a screening of “There Was Always Sun Shining Someplace” (Donn Rogosin). A presentation on Negro League photography challenged us to utilize our observational skills (Lizz Wilkinson). We were also filled in with more detail on who played where throughout the Negro Leagues (Paul Healey).
And oh, that Saturday! There was dancing in our seats as we watched an introductory film on the history of Motown Records and then strolled and sang our way through the spaces that made up “Hitsville, U.S.A.” A stop at the Detroit Historical Museum included a slide presentation of Negro Leagues art (Phil Dewey) and additional displays.
Our highly-informative bus tour guide Gary Gillette (a special hat tip to Gary for a job well done in all respects) regaled us with one story after another about places of note as we rode through Detroit and Hamtramck. The now-redeveloped Tiger Stadium site, the hopefully to-be-restored Hamtramck Stadium and the former Mack Park site gave us a chance to wander both among what still is and reflect on what once was.
The Negro Leagues Players Panel, moderated by eminent historian and “Don’t Call it Trivia” contest champion Larry Lester, included Ron Teasley, Pedro Sierra, Bill Hill, Jake Sanders, Johnny Walker, Walt Owens, Ms. Minnie Forbes and Eugene Scruggs.
All that and Joyce and Rosilyn (the golden-voiced Stearnes sisters), Phil Ross and Donald Conway (among the most entertaining attendees who weren’t presenters)! Who could ask for anything more?
Editor’s post note: Many thanks to John Graf for being willing to have me publish his excellent wrap-up of the conference. My next post (hopefully later this week) will be full of photos from various attendees at the conference. I’ll also includes links to some media coverage of the conference.