Thursday, November 30, 2006

Negro Leagues Baseball Oral History Project

this just in, a plea for help to continue a negro leagues oral history project:


We have corresponded in the past and I have sent you a description of my project, an oral history of Negro League Baseball. This is the latest update. The future needs of the project exceed the limited resources I have had available and have now completely expended personally to carry my project this far. Continued field work for interviews, and development of film and video, requiring both technical and financial backing, are the current priorities.
Put simply, at this point I am attempting to stay out on the road to interview remaining surviving players. Yet, I have completely exhausted my personal and family resources to do this work over the last six years. Nonetheless, I am determined to keep the project going. I urge you to help me rethink possible avenues of support and collaboration to keep this project moving ahead.
In recent weeks, I raised the minimal funds for a strategic trip to Florida and a special event for players there (report below). Among the interviewees was Silas Simmons, who turned 111 years old and whom I interviewed just two days after his birthday. He died only 13 days later. But with the Simmons interview and many others, I was able to expand my work and collection a good bit further, all on a shoestring budget, offered by friends of the project. Yet, the overall and real goals of this work will not be met ultimately in a timely way through this piecemeal and ad hoc fund-raising.
I look forward to hearing from you and receiving any suggestions you have regarding potential supporters and/or collaborative efforts to further this work..
Bob Allen
Florida Trip Summary for The Souls of Black Baseball Project:

On October 11, 2006 project director Dr Bob Allen was able to fly to Orlando, Florida at the invitation of Dr Richard Lapchick. Lapchick has been called the "conscience of sport in America."
Richard holds the following positions:
Chair of DeVos Sport Business Management Program
Director, Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport
Director, National Consortium for Academics and Sports
University of Central Florida
College of Business Administration

Lapchick and UCF invited Allen to give a lecture and hold sessions with 55 MBA students on the subject of Negro League Baseball History. The session was exciting and the students were very engaged in the discussion of and interest in this history and its implications for the current time.
With Lapchick and UCF paying the basic costs of travel to and from Florida, and part of the accomodations necessary for a visit, Allen was able to expand the trip to travel in the area and interview surviving Negro League Baseball players for his growing oral history video collection "The Souls of Black Baseball".
The outcome of the trip in the area was the garnering of 22 additional player interviews, and 2 additional non-player interviews. Notable among the player interviews accomplished was an interview with Silas Simmons, and filming of the birthday ceremony and historic celebration program for Silas, who turned 111 years of age on October 14, 2006. 200 some persons attended this event, including 30 Negro League and local Black Baseball surviving players and barnstormers from yesteryear.
Silas Simmons was born in 1895 and started to play professional and semipro baseball in the Philadelphia area around 1910, continuing to play until 1929. He has many recollections on Philadelphia and teams in the area, as well as nationally. Having moved to Florida in 1971, he still remains a dedicated and diehard Philadelphia fan, cheering on the Phils, the Sixers, the Eagles, and Flyers from afar.
The interview and event footage taken with Si will add to the Souls of Black Baseball collection a rare look into the already sizeable group of materials and interviews from the collection that now exceeds 350 hours of film footage. The Souls of Black Baseball project thanks Richard Lapchick and Keith Harrison of the UCF, Steve Horton and the Philadelphia PCDC, George Fosty of SONAHR (Society of North American Hockey Researchers), Charles Sackrey (Economics Chair Emeritus of Bucknell University), Joe Dorinson( Prof of History at Long Island University), Steve Millman, and Bob Rothouse (of the Pop Lloyd Committee), for being willing to help make this trip possible by generous in-kind or cash donations. Their generosity helped keep the project going this far and contributed to the addition of many fine interviews; as well as the preservation of the story and legacy of Silas Simmons, Philadelphian and Negro League player, oldest survivor of Negro League Baseball and of all baseball history, who began his career with the Blue Ribbons of Germantown.
A text version/article on the Silas Simmons interview will appear with the African American Ethnic Spots Hall of Fame Magazine.
Sadly, Silas stole home only 13 days after his 111th birthday celebration.
General project reference and description:

I write to you as I explore ways to 1) continue a project documenting an important segment of American History and 2) digitize and preserve for the future the contents of this growing collection. I would like to introduce to you below an oral history project designed to have eventual text and film components, with other multi-media possibilities as well. This work centers on the history of the Negro Leagues in baseball. One eventual use for the text and film versions of the project, will be their availability to young people and the general public, via programs designed to document and teach both the social context of sport and the history of baseball as experienced by people of color in our society. Our historical materials will be helpful to young people and older folk alike beyond the issues and arena of the playing fields.

To date, this project has collected over 350 hours of film footage of Negro Leagues histories. Yet, there is more to be done and further support to continue the project is needed. I work with a 501c3 educational group, conducting similar oral history projects for over 15 years now. I append for you a brief description of the project, and ask you to advise if your group might have interest in or support for this work. Thank you for your consideration of a work in progress.
Bob Allen

The Souls of Black Baseball:
Voices from the Field of Dreams Deferred
An Oral History Project by Dr. Bob Allen

Veteran of the Negro League Baseball era, catcher for the Philadelphia Stars, Bill "Ready" Cash can spin out a story that takes away your own breath as he tells it. Like the one about the 28 day bus trip the team took in the late 40's: going through towns 75-80 miles an hour because they had to make the schedule; blowing out motors and getting speeding tickets in the bargain; playing games along the way from Philadelphia, winding south 1900 miles away to Tyler, Texas.
On the field, in 105 degree weather, ready for the dressing rooms, but not allowed to use them. Had to go under the stands to dress. Only allowed a short run around the field for warmup as an old guy hollered from the stands, "nigger, I'm gonna shoot you." Says Bill: "We still had to play ball. Out of those 28 days we were away from home, we was in bed four hours. All the rest of the time we slept in the bus, traveling."
Cash continues the story, taking you on the northbound loop back home; like always, stopping now and then after games, at places that were open to get food, sandwiches, mayonnaise, meat, sodas, to eat on the way. Games along the way, night and day. Cash recalls: "One Sunday we played in Birmingham. They had a little kid 16 years old and his father didn't allow him to play, goin away with the team. He only played on Sundays. He was battin' third. Piper Davis was the manager. I said, Piper, you've got this kid hittin' third?' He said, you'll find out.' We were tied 6-6 in the seventh inning and he came up. Boy, I just knew we were gonna throw a ball by him. He got 4 for 5 against us that day. I hit a double off the scoreboard. The next guy hit a long fly to center field, he went back against the fence and caught it. I tagged up and went to third base. When I got there, the ball was waitin' on me. That little 16 year old kid was Willie Mays. Boy, he could hit, he could ...of course you know all about him...he could do it."

This and many other stories, some tragic and sad, others side-splitting hilarious, are part of and emerging from an oral history project by Dr. Bob Allen, a free lance writer and researcher, and former teacher at the Pennsylvania State University. Allen's travel throughout the northeast in the last six years, and his intention to visit and interview on film every surviving player from the Negro Leagues, was based on a three part goal: to preserve, promote, and promulgate the history and stories of Negro League Baseball.

To date, the project has collected over 350 hours of film footage of Negro Leagues histories. Yet, there is more to be done and further support to continue the project is needed. A detailed description of the project is available to all interested. In summarizing the project, Allen notes:
... without such histories being recorded, getting the actors to recall the play, and enabling future generations to see and understand the scene of the past "In time, we forget who we are." As players from the old baseball Negro Leagues probe the scars and remember the joys of their finest hours amidst the apartheid at the heart of the nation's pastime, this project will memorialize who they were so that we can better understand who we might be. Hopefully, it will make a special contribution to this important history of sport and American society; be of help and of use to veteran historians of the sport; and bring to life and keep alive the lessons and challenges we can all take up from this fascinating history.

For further information, enquiries, and suggested contacts to help Dr. Allen locate and interview players, or to provide needed support to continue the project, please be in touch with:

Bob Allen LHADD @


The Souls of Black Baseball:
Voices from the Field of Dreams Deferred
An oral history project by Dr Bob Allen

The history of Negro League Baseball is a crucial part of the history of the United States. Without understanding it we will never fully understand who we are and could be as a nation.1995 marked the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Negro National League. At that time an estimated 290 players were still alive. Today less than one third of them remain with us. In Philadelphia, in 1995, fans and historians could meet with the seven Philadelphia Stars, veteran Negro League players; today only four grace us with their presence and living history.
Six years ago, I initiated the project of videotaping extensive interviews with every remaining player available to recount his/her story of playing in the Negro Leagues, during the Jim Crow era. Through the histories being recorded, I focus on how these players were shaped by the sport they loved, what character and resilience it formed in them, helping them play and not react violently to the pressures upon them. I particularly ask them to narrate and reflect on their own development as youth so that the interviews will eventually be available for exposure to the general public and used in multimedia form, but especially as educational materials for today's youth.
Langston Hughes ended his interrogation "What happens to a dream deferred?" by asking "Or does it explode?" The Souls of Black Baseball project portrays the history of Negro League Baseball and allow us to hear players' direct answers to these hard questions posed by Hughes. In psychological and sociological terms, we examine the violence done these fine players and their reactions at the levels of accommodation, resistance, and incorporation.
Through these interviews, I am amassing the kind of footage which will eventually be of public interest, as well as of use to a range of writers and historians, and for a range of purposes. I have myself the more specific interest and goal of editing these interviews in order to get at players' stories and experiences, so as to contribute to:

a) a broader picture of the history of the Negro Leagues...
b) an exploration of what Negro League Baseball meant to the black community...
c) a discussion of how and where the separate pursuits of black, white, and Latino baseball collided, met, merged...
d) a better understanding of the special problems of racism, seen through the important prism of sport in our society.

As evident from the interviews already collected and underway with former players, interviewees are narrating their own biographical sketches and self-reflecting eloquently on the racist, hostile, and sometimes overtly violent years that were the context of their playing years within America's apartheid baseball system.
To date, the collected interviews comprise 350 hours of film footage, including 150 player interviews, and 58 other interviews. Yet, there are dozens more players around the US who have never been interviewed. Time is of the essence to have these players contribute their stories. I have currently depleted all available personal resources for this project. External funding is being sought to continue this work as well as to take the next steps, toward development of the film footage into materials that can be used in classrooms and for public airing and viewing.
I look forward to discussing in greater detail the scope of this project, its current and future needs, as well as any interest you and your organization may have in helping to further and sustain the goals of this project.

Dr Bob Allen Lhadd @
814 237 9471

Friday, October 06, 2006

Buck O'Neil, Negro Leagues Pioneer, Is Dead at 94

By Lonnie White Los Angeles Times Buck O'Neil, an All-Star first baseman and manager with the Kansas City Monarchs -- one of the storied franchises of black baseball -- who in his later years became a tireless ambassador for the Negro leagues, died Friday at a hospital in Kansas City, Mo. He was 94.

O'Neil had been hospitalized in August and again last month for fatigue. No cause of death was given.

In his 16-year career, he twice led the Negro American League in batting and eventually became the first black coach in major league baseball. But he was best-known for his accomplishments after his career with the Monarchs ended.

For many Americans, the gracious O'Neil became the face of the Negro leagues after the broadcast of Ken Burns' PBS documentary ``Baseball'' in 1994. And O'Neil, who had tirelessly promoted the sport he loved, used the increased exposure to continue that effort until his death.

O'Neil helped create the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo. -- he considered it the crowning achievement of his life -- and always made time to talk about his life in baseball and the legacy of many of those who played in an era when baseball was racially segregated.

``He brought the attention of a lot of people in this country to the Negro leagues,'' former Washington Manager Frank Robinson said. ``He told us all how good they were and that they deserved to be recognized for what they did and their contributions and the injustice that a lot of them had to endure because of the color of their skin.''

The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., this summer inducted 17 individuals involved with the Negro leagues era, but O'Neil, despite his high profile, was not among those selected by the special committee. O'Neil, who had failed to get enough votes in several previous elections, fell one vote short.

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig told the Los Angeles Times in July that O'Neil belonged in the Hall. ``He is a charismatic figure who, throughout his life, has been a wonderful promoter of our great game. He is a true baseball legend,'' Selig said. ``He should be in the Hall of Fame. As far as I'm concerned, he is a Hall of Famer.''

O'Neil, who won batting titles in 1940 and 1946 around a two-year stint in the Navy during World War II, led the Kansas City Monarchs to a Negro World Series championship. He was named player-manager in 1948 and remained with the team until 1955. During that time, he managed Kansas City to four league titles and coached legendary players Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and Ernie Banks before they eventually got the opportunity to do something he never did: Play in the major leagues.

After his playing career, O'Neil was hired by the Chicago Cubs as a scout in 1956. Six years later, the Cubs made him the first black coach in major league baseball. In 1988, O'Neil left after 33 years working with the Cubs to scout for the Kansas City Royals.

O'Neil played an important role in obtaining pensions for former Negro leagues players and was a primary reason the Negro leagues museum has been such a success. He had proposed its creation for years before its founding in 1990 and collected merchandise, drew attention to the cause and raised funds.

O'Neil was married 51 years to Ora Lee Owens, who died Nov. 2, 1997. They had no children. He is survived by a brother, Warren O'Neil.

Monday, July 10, 2006

July 2006 marks the 100th anniversary of Satchel Paige

click here to LISTEN to this story:
KANSAS CITY, MO (2006-07-05) July 2006 marks the 100th anniversary of Satchel Paige, one of the great players of the Negro Leagues. Scholars from across the country gather this week (July 6 - July 9, 2006) to discuss the history. KCUR's Greg Echlin has more.


As Curator of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Raymond Doswell has much to share about the ballplayers in the Negro Leagues. But because of segregation that isolated their lives before the color barrier was broken by Jackie Robinson in 1947, Doswell says that beyond sketchy baseball statistics there is so much to be learned about their personalities.

Doswell: One of the great holes in Negro Leagues history is that for so many years, we never have gathered the family history information. And that's what's missing from a lot of this history.

Research presentations will be made at the conference, which ends on Sunday. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the local chapter of SABR, the Society of American Baseball Research, are co-sponsoring the event. Greg Echlin, KCUR News.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Baseball's Blacks Still Struggling

by Courtesy of The Minneapolis Star Tribune By Rachel Blount,
published on Jul 7, 2006

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Negro Leagues traveling exhibit "Times Of Greatness" features a sepia-toned photograph, mounted on chicken wire, of an old team bus. The chicken wire was similar to the kind that once separated seating areas of blacks and whites at baseball parks. The bus freed teams from segregated train-car schedules and could function as a hotel or locker room in towns that refused to accommodate black players.

The exhibit came to the Metrodome recently, where it reminded fans of the indignities heaped upon great talents who merely wanted to participate in America's game. Today, many of those men are in the Hall of Fame -- but fewer African-Americans are building upon the history they created. American-born black players make up only 8 percent of major-league rosters this season, a fact that so alarmed Torii Hunter that he took matters into his own sure hands.

The Twins' center fielder decided to start a fund to encourage and enable more black kids and teens to play baseball. His phone has not stopped ringing since his plan received widespread attention in a USA Today story last month.

"You should see the e-mails I'm getting from all over the country," Hunter said. "I'm getting responses from guys I didn't want to bother during the season, like Reggie Abercrombie from Florida, Tony Clark from Arizona, Frank Thomas. They're saying, 'Why didn't you call?'

"When I look around during batting practice, I might see one African-American. Baseball is such a great game, I don't know why more kids aren't playing it. We have to do a better job of bringing them in."

The NBA and NFL market themselves brilliantly to urban audiences, making themselves the sports of choice for many African-American athletes and fans. Hunter postulates that parents, wooed by that marketing machine, encourage their kids to play basketball and don't educate their children about baseball's rich African-American history.

Inner-city kids often don't have access to a decent baseball field, which is expensive and labor-intensive to maintain, or to the money required to pay for equipment, instruction, registration fees and team travel.

"My dad was able to buy me a bat and get me in an organization, and it cost something like $70 -- and that was back in the day," said Twins outfielder Shannon Stewart, among the first to pony up a $10,000 donation for Hunter's vision. "It can cost a lot. And kids see Allen Iverson doing commercials, but they don't see African-American baseball players promoting the game like that.

"If I was a kid now, I'd probably want to be like Allen Iverson. I think Torii's program is really going to help, because if kids know big-time pro athletes like Torii Hunter and Shannon Stewart and Gary Sheffield are doing something to help them, that's better than if it comes from an organization."

Efforts such as RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) and the Twins' Fields for Kids and Rookie League programs have created new opportunities for kids to play. Hunter believes the star power of his project will strengthen the allure by putting famous -- and caring -- faces on the sport.

In August, Hunter's project will help sponsor four teams in a two-day exhibition at the Little League World Series. Next year, it will help fund the Little League Urban Initiative Jamboree, a 16-team event in Williamsport, Pa.

"It's so easy to get into the game now, but kids aren't playing," said Twins first base coach Jerry White, the only black man among Twins coaches. "Kids just have other things, other opportunities these days.

"It's too bad. The table is set. All you have to do is pull up a chair."

Rachel Blount writes for the Star Tribune

Monday, June 26, 2006

Negro Leagues legacy honored

By Joe Rutter
Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The rising number of Negro Leagues promotions, the ones where major leaguers adorn throwback uniforms for one game, has taken Theodore Toles to cities throughout the East.

Toles, 80 years old and a former Negro Leagues mainstay, is happy the stop he made Monday in Pittsburgh was one he can make again.

Any time he wants. As many times as he wants.

"These things seem to be catching on everywhere," Toles said. "But here, they're trying to get ahead of everybody."

Toles was referring to Highmark Legacy Square, a permanent Negro Leagues tribute that the Pirates unveiled yesterday at PNC Park.

The tribute, located inside the left field gate entrance, is dedicated to Pittsburgh's two Negro Leagues teams, the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords. It is an interactive exhibit that features a 25-seat movie theater and bronze statues for seven Hall of Fame players. The statues are accompanied by video kiosks that enables fans to learn about each player's background.

The exhibit is the first of its kind housed inside a major-league ballpark and is trumped only by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo.

"There is a lot of good energy here," said Toles, who played one season for the Crawfords. "This looks like it's part of a neighborhood. I think it's going to help everybody learn about the Negro Leagues teams."

Toles was joined by another former Negro League player, 99-year-old Wallace Williams. Relatives were on hand representing families of Josh Gibson, Cumberland Posey, Sellers Hall and Curt Roberts, the first black player signed by the Pirates.

Once inside the ballpark, they watched youngsters from the Josh Gibson Little League Association of Pittsburgh unveil statues for seven Crawfords and Grays players who have gained inclusion in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame: Cool Papa Bell, Oscar Charleston, Judy Johnson, Buck Leonard, Satchel Paige, Smokey Joe Williams and, of course, Gibson, considered the greatest Negro Leagues player of them all.

Gibson's statue is the first one fans will encounter when passing through the entrance.

"If you give me one word to describe it, I would say overwhelming," said Sean Gibson, the great-grandson of the legendary player and president of the Josh Gibson Foundation. "I'm glad the Pirates were first to do something like this, and I hope it inspires other cities to do the same. Pittsburgh was called the center of black baseball. To have Josh involved in this way is such an honor."

The theater contains wax figures of Crawfords owner Gus Greenlee and Posey, owner of the Grays. Their introduction begins a 12-minute presentation that showcases the history of the two teams.

The Pirates had considered adopting a Negro Leagues tribute in 2001 when PNC Park opened, but plans were put on the back burner. With the franchise hosting the All-Star Game in two weeks and the national media descending on Pittsburgh, it seemed like an appropriate season to make good on those plans, said Pirates managing general partner Kevin McClatchy.

It took more than a year of work, and some help from the Kansas City museum, to make yesterday's event become a reality.

"I'm glad we were able to get it done for the game," McClatchy said. "Hopefully, afterwards, when schools take tours of the ballpark, they'll explore this area which focuses more on the education of baseball.

"It's a great display, and it makes PNC Park, which we all say is the best ballpark in America, a little bit better."

Joe Rutter can be reached at

link to this story

Monday, June 19, 2006

Charles Johnson, 96; Former Player in the Negro Leagues

LA Times | From Times Staff and Wire Reports
June 19, 2006 Charles Johnson, 96, a former Negro League player who was credited with helping to pave the way for blacks to play in the major leagues, died Saturday of complications from prostate cancer.

After his playing career, Johnson worked to push major league baseball to offer pensions to former Negro League players. He also won an anti-discrimination lawsuit against Illinois Central Railroad in the mid-1960s after he was turned down for a special agent position, said his friend Steve Kirby.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Gordon Hopkins Sr., 71, Negro leagues ballplayer

Philadelphia Inquirer | By Gayle Ronan Sims Inquirer Staff Writer

Gordon "Hoppy" Hopkins Sr., 71, a former second baseman in the Negro American Baseball League who played with such greats as Hank Aaron and Willie Mays before they joined the majors, died of heart failure last Friday at home in West Philadelphia.

A native of rural Montgomery County, Md., he fell in love with baseball as a boy, watching his uncle kick up dust with his spikes. He spent summer afternoons watching the Sandy Spring Stars and Washington Potomacs play near his house.

"At age 8 or 9, I was going to the games," he told the Washington Times in 1999. "I knew all the players. I never paid to get into a game."

As a teen, he played with the House of David ball club, a Michigan-based religious team.

He played infield from 1952 to 1954 with the Indianapolis Clowns, sharing the dugout with Aaron, who began his career with the Clowns. In 1953, Mr. Hopkins batted .400 in a postseason barnstorming tour of star players. He played with one of the few women in the Negro leagues, Mamie "Peanut" Johnson, who pitched for the Clowns. And he played against Mays when the future Hall of Famer was with the Birmingham Black Barons.

At 5-foot-9, Mr. Hopkins was nicknamed "Flash Gordon" because he was fast.

"He ran so fast that infielders sometimes would not even try to throw him out at first base," his son Paul said, adding that his father was fond of saying: "I love that diamond dust that flies when I slide into second."

Mr. Hopkins never made much money playing ball, no more than $150 a week. But he loved the game just the same, his son said. "One summer night, my father told me, he hit a bases-loaded triple, and a fan gave him $20 and a standing ovation. He never forgot that."

Mr. Hopkins joined the Marines in 1955, and played ball on the military teams, including the All Navy Game and All Marines Championship Team at Parris Island, S.C., and in Puerto Rico.

When he was discharged in 1958, he moved to Germantown to take care of a sickly aunt, his son said.

By then, however, his baseball career was over. Soon after Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, major-league baseball began recruiting the best black players, and the Negro leagues began their decline. Mr. Hopkins never again played professionally.

Mr. Hopkins, who dropped out of high school early to play baseball, decided to continue his education. He graduated from Bok Vocational High School in 1960, specializing in cabinetmaking. That year, he married the girl next door, Barbara Benton. After she died in 1969, Mr. Hopkins moved to Maryland. He returned to the region in 2003, settling in West Philadelphia.

For most of his adult life, Mr. Hopkins made custom cabinets and traveled the country signing memorabilia, promoting the history of the Negro leagues and fighting for medical benefits for former players. Until his death, he was secretary for Yesterday's Negro League Baseball Players Foundation, based in Milwaukee.

Mr. Hopkins was honored in 1991 by the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., as one of the living legends of Negro leagues baseball. And in 2002, he was inducted into the Milwaukee Brewers' Walls of Honor, a memorial in Miller Park honoring Negro leagues baseball.

Mr. Hopkins played the tenor saxophone and enjoyed jazz. He also was a gifted golfer and often played with Earl Woods, his son said.

In addition to his son Paul, Mr. Hopkins is survived by sons Gordon Jr. and Gregory and one granddaughter.

A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. today at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, 230 Coulter St., Germantown. Burial will be in Fairview Cemetery, Willow Grove.

Donations may be made to the Gordon "Hoppy" Hopkins Foundation, Diamond Dust Enterprises, 534 W. Queen Lane, Philadelphia 19144. The foundation works to provide medical assistance for former players of the Negro leagues.

Contact staff writer Gayle Ronan Sims at 215-854-4185 or