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The Color of Baseball in Boston

New exhibit showcases the city’s great black players and teams

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A fascinating new exhibit at the Museum of African American History titled The Color of Baseball in Boston: The History of Black Teams, the Players, and a Sporting Community, explores the contribution made by the city’s largely forgotten black baseball players in the years before the integration of the major leagues.

Covering two floors of the small, bright museum located on Beacon Hill, the exhibit includes a wealth of information about individual players like Will “Cannonball” Jackman, often referred to as the “best baseball player you’ve never heard of.” Born in Texas in 1897, Jackman became famous during the 1920s playing for black teams, including the Boston Monarchs, the Philadelphia Giants (of Boston), and the Boston Colored Giants. He pitched nearly 1,200 games, playing his last in a commemorative game at the age of 56.

The show also provides a detailed account of the many black teams that flourished in Boston during the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries, despite often subpar facilities—teams like the Resolutes, the city’s first semi-professional black ball club founded in 1870 by Marshall Thompson, and the Cuban Giants (so named because white teams avoided playing teams referred to as black), which by 1886 had become the first professional black baseball team in the country.

Memorabilia including articles, letters, photographs, uniforms, and gloves trace the evolution of black baseball in the Northeast and the rise of teams like the West Newton Colored Giants, the Philadelphia Giants, the Boston Tigers, the Boston Giants, and the Providence Colored Giants. These items give the viewer a glimpse into the world of baseball before multi-million dollar contracts, when amateur and semi-professional teams played in local ball parks to the delight of neighborhood kids perched in trees. As the show illustrates, local ball fields became centers of black community and family life in the first half of the twentieth century.

Among the most noteworthy items on display are Jackman’s uniform, cap, and worn leather shoes and Ernest Withers’ photos of the Negro League team the Memphis Red Sox.

The exhibit commemorates the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park and is partly funded by the Boston Red Sox, the last major league team to integrate, in 1956.

Want to learn more? Listen to WBUR’s Radio Boston interview with Beverly Morgan Welch, executive director of the Museum of African American History, here.

The Color of Baseball in Boston is on display at the Museum of African American History, 46 Joy St., Boston, through October 31, 2012. The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children ages 13–17, students, and seniors. Admission is free for members and children 12 years and younger. To get there by public transportation, take any MBTA Green Line trolley to the Park St. stop and walk up to Beacon Hill. For more information, go here.

Erin Thibeau can be reached at ethibeau@bu.edu. Follow here on Twitter at @erinthibeau.

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