Local News

In Durham, Baseball History Not Forgotten

Posted April 15, 1998 7:00 a.m. EDT

— Baseball is part of American history, and its roots run deep here in North Carolina. There's a good chance you've never heard of some of the best players to ever pick up a bat in the Tar Heel state.

A traveling exhibition out of Kansas City, now in Durham's Hayti Heritage Center, honors the old Black Baseball Leagues. As Durham enters a new era in baseball, it's important to never forget the past.

"We just had a good time playing baseball," recalls former Negro League player, Carl Long. "They gave us $5 a day to eat on. They give us $150 a month. And that was a lot of money. I would have played baseball for nothing."

Carl Long of Kinston joined many of his peers to sign autographs this day, in the midst of an exhibit that honors them and some of the games greatest players ever: charismatic showman Rube Foster, the Twin Twisters of the Homestead Grays, Josh Gibson and Rocky Mount's own Buck Leonard-- stars of the Negro League in the days before Jackie Robinson broke pro-baseball's color barrier.

Long says he was too young to understand what racial slurs were all about, but being around such players as Henry Kimbrough, Doc Ennis and Pee Wee Butts, he soon learned where he could and could not go.

As Executive Director of the St. Joseph's Historic Foundation, which operates the Hayti Heritage Center, Diane Pledger is helping fill a gap in educating a new generation. She received her education in baseball history first hand.

Pledger's father played in the Negro Leagues with Brandon Braves and the Indianapolis Clowns: I remember hearing him talk about Satchel Paige, and I felt close to this exhibit, and I felt like I had something to contribute to being able to bring it to Durham.

For the former players, the exhibit sweetens a time in history that was otherwise sour. They missed the bigger paychecks and fame of their white counterparts. The culture of their day gave them, as well as all African Americans, a back seat in society.

"We just loved to play baseball," Long says, "We just took it out on that baseball."

The black baseball exhibit runs through May 9th, so there's still plenty of time to catch the exhibit. The pictures, the memorabilia and the stories are reminders of a wonderful and often forgotten part of baseball, as well as American history.