Collector’s passion helps preserve, tell the story of Negro League baseball players

By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.

Alabama NewsCenter

U.W. Clemon, left, speaks with other guests at the Negro Southern League Museum. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr. photos, Alabama NewsCenter).
U.W. Clemon, left, speaks with other guests at the Negro Southern League Museum. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr. photos, Alabama NewsCenter).

Make no mistake. Layton Revel isn’t toying with a hobby as he collects artifacts that he lends to the Negro Southern League Museum in Birmingham.

“This is a mission, this is a passion,” Revel said. “We have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars. We don’t make any money. There’s a desperate need to preserve this history and that’s what we’re doing.”

Revel visited from his home in Dallas on Thursday to speak at “Pitch Talk,” a discussion program created by the museum to engage the community. There, Revel talked about his passion for African American baseball and his effort with others to preserve it.

The physician spoke of his good friend, Bill “Fireball” Beverly, a former Negro League baseball player who passed away in 1996. At that time, very little was being done to preserve and record the history of black baseball in America.

“With so much of African-American history, people just aren’t aware,” he said. “They just don’t know the story. Once they hear the story, folks get a lot more excited. It’s a matter of just being uneducated.

“When you talk to little league ballplayers, they don’t have any earthly idea what struggles the African-American went through before there was Major League Baseball today. It’s a matter of lack of education, lack of awareness,” Revel said.

The Negro Southern League Museum has 8,000 square feet of exhibit space, making it the largest African-American sports museum in the country. Revel said it is even larger than the Smithsonian Institution’s museum on African-American sports that opens in September.

“They have 5,000 square feet of exhibit space to tell the story of the history of Negro League Baseball, basketball, football, boxing, track, the Olympics,” Revel said. “Their treatment to Negro League Baseball is two cases – one about the Negro Leagues and one about integration.

“The unique thing about the museum here is it’s a very large museum and the artifacts that we have on display only represents about 10 percent of our collection.”

The 50-plus people in attendance last Thursday included several family members of Alfred Charles Pinkston, who was the inspiration for the Forgotten Heroes Award from Revel’s Center for Negro League Baseball Research. Pinkston, a native of Newbern, Ala., who passed away in 1981, once held the record as the all-time leading hitter in Mexican baseball.

“Pinky’s been gone for a long time but his legend lives on,” Revel said. “It’s important for his grandson, his great grandson to know what an outstanding ballplayer Alfred Pinkston was and how he impacted the game of baseball here in the United States and in Latin America.”