Negro League Baseball History For Christmas

If you have a history buff on your Christmas list, they will love Last Train To Cooperstown, profiles of the last Negro League inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Kevin L. Mitchell, author of Last Train To Cooperstown, stopped by to talk about his book and all things relating to baseball.

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Why did you write Last Train to Cooperstown?

I wrote the book in response to the current decline of popularity for baseball by African-Americans.  Due to social, economic, and other issues the attention of African American youth has been diverted from the game. Basketball and football are now the main sports they participate.  The number of African-Americans playing Major League baseball is less than during the late 1950s through 1970s.  With no Lebron James, Steph Curry, or Cam Newton high-profile type player in baseball, African American attendance at Major League baseball games has decreased.

The book’s purpose is to indicate that because of Negro League baseball’s rich history and its everlasting impact on the game, African-Americans have deep, grounded roots in baseball that cannot be severed by the current trends.  The stories of the 2006 Hall of Fame Inductees from Negro League baseball in the book are reminders of those deep, everlasting roots.  Readers will get a deeper understanding of Negro League baseball as not just a part of baseball history or African America history, but as being imbedded into the fabric of 20th Century American history.

How did you get interested in baseball?

I think my interest in the sport began to develop in 1957 when I was six years old.  Baseball reigned during that time as the nation’s favorite sport.  Henry Aaron and the Milwaukee Braves’ defeat of the New York Yankees in 1957 was my first TV World Series recollection.  I played a form of stickball with my brother, Lephus Jr., in our backyard.  My friend, Big Mike, and I would take turns using the handle of a cut off broom to hit a rubber ball my brother pitched to us.  We turned the small yard into a make shift asymmetrical ball field.  A red barrel used for burning trash served as first base.  Air pollution had not yet become a concern in 1957 so open trash burning in the city was not illegal yet.  When  I hit a double, I would run to touch the red barrel and then head to second base; the southeast back corner of our garage where my father very seldom kept his car.  When scoring from second on Big Mike’s single I would have to remember to touch third base, a post of our neighbors Mr. and Mrs. Shern’s wire fence.

With both of my older brothers and my father being baseball fans, I  would watch baseball games on TV with them.  There were no 24 hour Cable TV sports stations televising games.  The Kansas City CBS affiliate TV station could not televise the weekend national Game of the Week due to the television blackout policy in the 1950s for cities with Major League teams.  So we watched selected road games the Kansas City Athletics televised.  Harry “Suitcase” Simpson, Hector Lopez, and Bob Cerv are the A’s players with which I first became familiar.  I also would listen to my brothers and their friends talk about other Major League players, especially African American ones (Aaron, Ernie Banks, Willie Mays, etc).   Jackie Robinson had retired the previous year (1956), but my awareness of race relations at six years old was enough to allow me to know of him as the first “Negro” to play in the Major Leagues.  However, I was too young to have a deeper understanding of his significance.

Why do you think African American kids have lost interest in baseball?

This could be the topic of someone’s dissertation because there are so many issues as to why African American kids have lost interest in the game.  There are social, economic, racial, political, and other factors; and they are all intertwined.  A change in the times and differences in the world surrounding different generations also must be considered.

In my opinion, baseball failed to keep up with the increasingly intense competition from football and basketball that developed in the 1980s for capturing the attention of African American kids. The competition was a subset of a changing world, one obviously now much different than when I was a kid interested in the sport.

Being of “baby boomer” age, I grew up doing the time when baseball reigned as America’s pastime with no other sport seriously vying for my attention.  My love for the game began and was nurtured during the time called “baseball’s golden era”, the 1950s and 1960s when young white and black boys were passionate about the sport.  My friends and I collected baseball cards and knew the names of the players on all the Major League teams. We had Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Ernie Banks, and an increasing number of other African American players to emulate.  We saw them play on TV, but mostly read about them in the newspaper and magazines.  The All-Star Game and the World Series were baseball special events we looked forward to each year with excitement.

Pro football and basketball were growing sports we played, but they failed to capture our allegiance from baseball.  They had not yet turned into the billion-dollar advertising and marketing giants targeting African American kids as they are today.  The TV networks had not discovered the money bonanza in sports programming.  There was no Sunday Night, Monday Night, or Thursday Night Football to get our attention.  No 24-hour NFL Cable TV network.  No ESPN to broadcast pro and college basketball games throughout the week.  There was no Super Bowl, no “March Madness”, and no marathon broadcast of the NBA Playoffs which, not like today, ended in the spring and not mid-summer.  It was a different time.

Being before Nike and the other athletic shoe companies, there were no basketball shoe advertising campaigns in front of us.  It was a time before pro athletes, especially African American ones, were not endorsing products on TV.  There were no “I want to be like Mike” commercials about Gatorade getting our attention. Gatorade did not come around until the late 1960s.

The competition from other sports for the attention of African American kids increased immensely in generations after mine.  The world changed, no longer the 1960s.  The popularity of football and basketball continued to grow, threatening baseball’s long standing number one sport status by the year 2000.  The TV ratings for the Super Bowl and “March Madness” frequently surpassed that of the World Series.

When pro football and basketball began to intensely target the younger generation of African American kids in the 1980s, baseball’s marketing mentality remained in 1960 with a nine-year-old me. It was slow out of the starting blocks in marketing official apparel and gear.  Unlike football and basketball, baseball did not use their African American star players to promote the sport.  It may not have had a Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, or Jerry Rice; but it could have better utilized Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds (before the steroid issues), Derek Jeter, or Frank Thomas. By the time baseball understood what was happening, the other sports had the ears and eyes of African American kids.

What is your present involvement in youth baseball?

For the last four years I have been on the board of the Kansas City, Kansas Baseball Association (KCKBA), an organization that provides opportunities for kids in the inner city to play competitive baseball. We organize youth baseball teams to play in leagues such as the Kansas City, Missouri RBI, Wyandotte County Unified Government, and other leagues, in addition to having our own T-Ball league.  Last season I helped coach two Machine Pitch league teams for kids aged 10 years old and younger.

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How are the lives of the Negro League players in Last Train to Cooperstown an inspiration?

They were examples of pursuing excellence in what they did in spite of facing obstacles due to uncontrollable and imperfect circumstances.  Racial discrimination robbed them of the opportunity to play in the Major Leagues; that was out of their control.  Due to the economic restrictions that characterized Negro League baseball, they had to travel and play often in imperfect conditions.  However, they did not use either as an excuse or rationalization to not do their best.  As a result, even though the color of their skin kept them out of Major League baseball, the excellence they exhibited on the diamond earned them an undeniable place in the National Baseball Hall of Fame

Do you have plans for another book?

Yes!  With the Civil Rights Movement’s initial beginnings as its backdrop, the book will tell of the demise of Negro League teams as the integration of Major League baseball by African American and dark-skinned Latino players gained unstoppable momentum in the 1950s.

You have a popular baseball blog – The Baseball Scroll and a website where you write about baseball history.  Explain why you started them.

I started The Baseball Scroll (www.thebaseballscroll.blogspot.com)and the blog on my website (www.klmitchell.com) to constantly promote the unshakable historical connection of African-Americans to the sport of baseball.  The content for both includes my personal reflections, as an African American, on baseball events of my youth, the history of Negro League baseball, and information about baseball’s “golden era” (1950s through early 1960s) pertaining to African American ball players.  Hopefully, heralding the deep historical connection will revive the interest of African Americans in the game.  My blogs also help me connect to other bloggers and baseball historians, both African American and white, who have the same objective.

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How can someone get in touch with you for speaking engagements?

My website address is www.klmitchell.com and my direct email address is kevlephmitch@gmail.com

Purchase Last Train To Cooperstown

 

 

 

Margaree King Mitchell Featured On The Brown Bookshelf

I am delighted to be featured on The Brown Bookshelf website. Below is an excerpt from the article. Please visit The Brown Bookshelf  to read the entire feature.

Throwback Thursday: Margaree King Mitchell

The tagline of Margaree King Mitchell’s website is “Creating Stories that Inspire.” Indeed her moving titles, from picture books to YA, touch children and adults and show the potential for greatness that lies within each of us. Her Coretta Scott King Honor Award-winning book, Uncle Jed’s Barbershop, debuted in 1993 and became a classic featured in classrooms and libraries, Reading Rainbow and theaters. Is it any wonder that people eagerly awaited a second collaboration by Margaree and acclaimed illustrator James E. Ransome? We featured Margaree as a 28 Days Later honoree the year that stirring book, When Grandmama Sings, debuted. It was  another  intergenerational  treasure, rooted in black history, that stayed with you long after you put it down.

Enjoy Margaree from February 28, 2012

If you are at all familiar with the picture book genre, you’ve likely heard of Uncle Jed’s Barbershop, the much heralded, 1994 Coretta Scott King Honor Book. Margaree King Mitchell is the author of that still-popular title, as well as Granddaddy’s Gift (1996).

Her latest book, When Grandmama Sings, was released last month to wonderful reviews. As we wind down this year’s campaign, it is an honor to feature the words and work of Margaree King Mitchell.

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Visit The Brown Bookshelf to read features on African-American authors and illustrators.

 

3 Reasons to Give Uncle Jed’s Barbershop This Christmas

Uncle Jed was the only black barber in the county. And he had a dream. Living in the segregated South of the 1920’s, Uncle Jed had to travel all over the county to cut his customers’ hair. He lived for the day when he could open his very own barbershop. But Uncle Jed encountered setback after setback that delayed his dream. However, not even the Great Depression could force him to give up on his dream.  Uncle Jed finally opened his barbershop after saving for years and years. The community celebrated with him and so did his niece, Sarah Jean.

Uncle Jed’s Barbershop is a stirring story of dreams long deferred and finally realized.

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Here are three reasons to give Uncle Jed’s Barbershop to the child on your  Christmas list.

  1. Uncle Jed’s Barbershop inspires children to dream great dreams for their lives and realize that those dreams can come true. I will always remember the girl in Little Rock, Arkansas who said to me, “I want to be a doctor when I grow up, but my Grandmama says I will never be one. Now I know I can be a doctor.”
  2. An award-winning musical has been adapted from Uncle Jed’s Barbershop. The most recent honor is a Henry Award nomination for Outstanding New Musical. Theatre critics say: “Get ready for some toe-tapping fun!”“Uncle Jed’s Barbershop leaps from the bookshelf to the stage!”ujb24    ujb50  angels hair9
  3. James Ransome’s wonderful richly colored paintings bring the story to life.

Learn about Uncle Jed’s Barbershop

Learn about Uncle Jed’s Barbershop Musical

Splinterfire Features Young Adult Book Author

Margaree King Mitchell, author of the YA novel, The People In The Park, is one of four featured authors on Splinterfire for the month of October. Also featured are authors Lee Goldstein, Mary Ellen Donat, and Lee Benning.

The People In The Park

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The following is an excerpt from Splinterfire – Meet The Authors:

Margaree King Mitchell was born in Holly Springs, MS.  She is a graduate of Brandeis University and now lives in Kansas City. She is the creator of the Everybody Has A Dream program, which empowers students in urban and rural areas to shoot for the stars with aspirations for their lives. In 2002 Margaree received the SCERUS Award at the National Invitational Conference of Educational Research in the Urban South.

Margaree is renowned for her wonderful picture books. The People In The Park is her first foray into young adult fiction.”

Visit Splinterfire to continue reading about each author.

Read The People In The Park

Available from: www.pelicanbookgroup.com
G   Christian Available from: www.pelicanbookgroup.com

Children’s Book Tackles Importance Of Voting

A wonderful review for Granddaddy’s Gift!

Granddaddy’s Gift

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“The United States has seen some turbulent times in its history, especially for African-Americans. Granddaddy’s Gift highlights one aspect of American history, the African American struggle for the right to vote. The stars of this touching story are Joe Morgan and his granddaughter whom he calls ‘Daughter’ but everyone else in their community affectionately calls ‘Little Joe’ because she is like his shadow. Joe Morgan is a man who has worked hard all his life and in spite of his 8th grade education, he owns his own land on which he farms and raises animals. He stresses the importance of education to his granddaughter through both his words and actions. When it comes time for someone in their Mississippi community to stand up and attempt to register to vote, Joe Morgan answers the call. As a result of his decision he, his family and ultimately the entire African American community are faced with adversity, but in the process he teaches his granddaughter some important lessons.

“Granddaddy’s Gift illustrates how the freedoms that many of us take for granted are indeed a gift from the generations before us. The illustrations perfectly complement this keenly written story and add a personal touch. The story instills a sense of pride in the legacy left by ordinary but brave people who helped to change the cultural climate of this country. I highly recommend this book, not only because it relates historical information but also because of the values the story represents.” -S. Seay

For more information: Granddaddy’s Gift

 

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A Wonderful Joyous Day

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The National Museum of African-American History & Culture opened Saturday with a ceremony befitting it’s importance. Rev. Howard-John Wesley, pastor of Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia said that this museum “Symbolizes all of the contributions, the culture and the crisis of black America. It’s a beautiful thing, especially in this day and time when we’re fighting to remind ourselves how important black lives are.”

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The museum holds more than 3,000 items, including exhibits of an authentic slave cabin from a plantation in South Carolina, a Tuskegee Airmen training plane , the casket of Emmett Till, Chuck Berry’s candy-apple red 1973 Cadillac Eldorado, and nine of the ten Olympic medals won by Carl Lewis.

Descend into the lowest level. The exhibits start with the trans-Atlantic slave trade and goes to Emancipation. Along the way you will see a whip used aboard slave ships, an auction block where slaves were sold, and Nat Turner’s Bible.

The next level and ramps cover segregation to today. They include a rail car from the Southern Railway which shows the different accommodations for white and black passengers, who paid the same fare.

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Above ground are floors 3 and 4. Here you will find African-American achievements in the fields of music, art, sports, the military, and other areas highlighted. From these levels visitors can look out and view the Washington Monument, Arlington National Cemetery, the White House, and the National Mall.

In his dedication of the museum, President Obama said, “Hopefully, this museum will help us to talk to each other, and more importantly listen to each other, and most importantly see each other.”

The dedication ceremony ended with the oldest and the youngest members of the Bonner family, who are descendants of slaves, ringing the Freedom Bell to officially open the Smithsonian’s new museum.

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A trip to Washington, D.C. to see  the National Museum of African-American History and Culture is a must. The museum is power packed, absorbing, and filled with exhibits that will elicit a wide range of emotions.

The People In The Park Featured on Splinterfire

I am thrilled that my YA novel, The People In The Park, is a featured book for August on the Splinterfire website.

Following are excerpts about The People In The Park:

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Lauren Moffitt is privileged and overprotected by her wealthy parents. Lauren’s only concerns in life are getting good grades and finding the perfect designer dress for her junior prom. The world is her oyster. Nothing can prepare her for the devastating scandal that rocks her world when her father is charged with investment fraud.

As Lauren’s father fights to save his name, Lauren quickly learns who her real friends are, and that she has a lot of growing up to do. Spoiled and self-centered, she struggles to keep her head high. But it’s not until after she hears the stories of the people in the park, her sanctuary where she takes her daily run, that Lauren realizes that she can rise above her family ‘situation’. For the first time in her 16 years, Lauren begins making serious decisions about her life’s goals. When her father is exonerated, Lauren begins to establish ties with her African American relatives, especially a wonderful cousin who is her age and who attends a city prep school.

Strong-willed Lauren learns to be charitable, but most of all, she learns what the importance of family ties means to securing a happy future for herself and her loved ones.

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Margaree King Mitchell’s wonderful picture book, Uncle Jed’s Barbershop, has been adapted and produced into an award-winning musical. It’s run has been very successful. She’s helping the creators of the show identify producers to carry the show to cities throughout the United States.

She’s traveling and  promoting her novel, The People In The Park. She is also promoting her first novel for adults, Woman In The Pulpit.

 

Thanks Splinterfire for the feature!

Be sure to browse around the Splinterfire website and check out the wonderful books by Donna Eastman & Gloria Koehler. Their motto is: Wholesome Books For All Ages

Visit: Splinterfire

Read Chapter 1 of The People In The Park! Click below:

The People In The Park – Chapter One