Hello folks, I promise writing about myself and my activities will not be a common part of the website but yesterday I got to take part in an event that I was proud to be part of and it fits with the goal of this page. In fact, a similar sort event last summer was part of the impetus for me to start writing this site as Lyndon Baseball Johnson.
I was given the chance to speak to a group of middle school students just east of downtown for Black History Month. I began with a speech about Austin during segregation, the Negro Leagues, Negro League stars from Central Texas like Willie Wells, Rube Foster, and Smokey Joe Williams. There were several minutes spent on Downs Field, a field many of the group were familiar with with an amazing history. The exciting thing is this same page Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, & Satchel Paige played on is still in use. I also included a plug for RBI Austin that does great work not just in providing a league for students to play in but in youth mentoring as well. I would support RBI Austin even if they were playing kickball, tennis, soccer, or basketball - the fact they teach the students baseball and then play in competitive leagues is just a bonus.
But unlike my typical presentation I added a new portion on Jackie Robinson and the nearly 2 years he spent in the Central Texas area.
This is something I will develop into a longer post later but the basics for Jackie Robinson in the Austin area are as follows. Following being drafted into the Army in 1942, Robinson was stationed at Fort Hood in 1943. A close friend and mentor from hist time in Pasadena, the Reverend Karl Downs, lived in Austin at the time working at Samuel Hutson College which is now Huston-Tillotson University. Robinson would come and visit Austin often and was known for playing pickup basketball games at the Anderson High School. The exciting thing about these pickup games is that following his stellar career at UCLA, Robinson was considered as potentially the best basketball player in America. Following hid discharge from the Army in 1944, due to an incident similar to the Rosa Parks bus incident on the base's bus system, Robinson accepted the position of Hutson College's Athletic Director & Basketball coach. He stayed at this position through the winter of 1944-1945 before leaving to join the Kansas City Monarchs in Spring Training in Houston, beginning his baseball career.
We ended the class by having an uniform design contest for the Austin Black Senators. The Black Senators were an Austin-based blackball team with few historical records existing. The students had fun with the contest with consistently good designs. The winner received a new copy of the movie "42" and the runners-up receiving "Heroes of the Negro Leagues" by Mark Chiarello & Jack Morelli. However, I was informed that the winner of the dvd and one of the winners of the book later traded because the student that won wanted to read about more players and see the pictures. I wrote the kid a college recommendation letter on the spot. (Sidenote: "Heroes of the Negro Leagues" is the book that started my research into the Texas Negro League history. I received the book for Christmas 2011 and while going through it I was amazed how many of the players came not just from Texas but Central Texas. The illustrations are beautiful watercolors and the one-page biographies of the players have turned into my starting point when researching a player).
It was exciting to combine aspects of my career in education with my work in baseball history, and the students were more receptive to hearing these stories from 65+ years ago than I thought they would be. One employee of the school I spoke with afterwards told me how got to met Satchel Paige and Buck O'Neill when he lived in Kansas City and knew some of the men that worked with Jackie Robinson during his time at Huston College. This conversation was a great way for me to end the day and I could have listened to his stories for a long while.
I am attaching a copy of the slide show that accompanied my presentation should any one be interested in a brief introduction to Jackie Robinson and his time in the Central Texas area. I am also including some of the pictures the students drew for the uniform design contest and the winner. If you work for or know someone that works for an organization that would be interested in a presentation like this, feel free to contact me and ask.