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Birmingham observes ‘galvanizing’ social change of the Negro Leagues

Co-hosts Alicia Johnson-Williams and Roy Wood Jr., during the virutal event.
Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
For The Birmingham Times

Marilyn Robinson remembers her school days when her dad was more famous to others than to her.  But all of her teachers knew the former Negro League baseball player.

“One day my dad was coming to school,” Robinson said, recalling her father Stanley Jones’s visit to Bessemer’s Dunbar Elementary School. “He was coming to see my teacher and she got so excited to be able to see somebody famous.”

Years later, Robinson raised the eyebrow of a professor at Lawson State Community College.

“I said my dad went to Wenonah High School,” she recalled. “He said, ‘Who’s your dad?’ I told him my dad is Stanley Lee Jones and he played with the Birmingham Black Barons. He was so excited. He remembered my dad. He went and told other professors, ‘Hey, I’ve got Stanley Jones’ daughter in my class.'”

Robinson was among the participants in the Negro Southern League Museum’s Celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the Negro Leagues that was online Sunday, January 17. The celebration came on the heels of Major League Baseball designating Negro Leagues as major leagues.

Comedian Roy Wood Jr., who cohosted the event with NSLM director Alicia Johnson-Williams, said the Negro Leagues brought to together “world class athletes, both Black and Hispanic, and gave them a chance to do not only what they love, but something that they were very good at during a tumultuous time of segregation.”

 Johnson-Williams said Negro League teams and players helped to “galvanize the need for social change in the world of sports, paving the way for Jackie Robinson and so many others that followed.”

Robinson broke the baseball color line when he started at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. 

Wood kidded that Negro Leaguers played in the summertime in wool. “They were fighting heat stroke and racism at the same time,” he joked.

Speaking seriously, the comedian said, “Those men, and women, endured so much for the love of the game, all the while providing entertainment and serving as a catalyst for economic growth in cities across the United States.”

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin literally tipped a cap to the 100th anniversary of Negro League Baseball, acknowledging that the Magic City was home to the Birmingham Black Barons from 1920 to 1960.

“Birmingham holds a rich history in American history, including Black history,” he said. “Without the history of Negro League Baseball, our city would not be able to celebrate the success of baseball legends such as Satchel Paige, Willie Mays, Bo Jackson and so many more.

“Our hometown (Black) Barons team helped open the door for African Americans in not only sports but so many others industries,” the mayor continued. “I thank the Birmingham Black Barons for their vision, their dedication and their commitment. They are true game-changers. The City of Birmingham will always be appreciative of the opportunity that Negro League Baseball has provided.”

Robinson, Stanley Jones’ daughter, appeared in the video during a segment that featured reflections of children of the Negro Leagues. Terrence Wilson, the son of Moses Herring, said didn’t initially know the notoriety his father had earned.

“As a kid, I can remember being with my dad and people would stop him and they would say, ‘Hey, young fella, do you know who your dad is?’” Wilson recalled. “I was like, ‘Nah,’ because I never saw my dad play any professional sports. But as I got older and started learning about his history with the game and sports in general, I was like, ‘Wow, my dad is really, really somebody. He achieved a lot, and he played in a historic league that at the time was not really respected but it really produced a lot of great baseball players. My dad was a part of that.’”

The virtual celebration included interviews with some former Negro Leaguers. They included:

Sam Allen, 84, who played with the Kansas City Monarchs in 1957, the Raleigh Tigers in 1958 and the Memphis Red Sox in 1959.

Larry LeGrande, 81, who caught legendary Satchel Paige. LeGrande played with the 1957 Memphis Red Sox, the 1958 Detroit Stars, the 1959-61 Kansas City Monarchs and the Satchel Paige All-Stars from 1961 to 1964.

Reginald Howard, who is writing a book about his Negro League experience. He played with the Indianapolis Clowns in 1956-57.

Dr. Layton Revel, the founder of Negro League Baseball Research and cofounder of Negro Southern League Museum, also spoke during the online event. He cited the multiple reasons Birmingham was the perfect choice as a location of a museum dedicated to Negro League Baseball.

The virtual celebration will ultimately be available on the museum website – www.birminghamnslm.org – and on YouTube.