We’re celebrating Black History at Mother 2 Mother this month. I decided to celebrate my home town’s Black History this year. I selected the African American Red Sox baseball team that played in my neighborhood when I was growing up. My father, 6th from the left on the top row, along with many of our neighbors were a part of the Red Sox baseball team.
Unfortunately, I didn’t see my father play. I was a baby, but I remember his stories. The Red Sox was a black baseball team that operated from the 1930’s until the late 1960’s. My father played second base during the forties and fifties for the team. This picture was taken in 1946, a year before Jackie Robinson integrated American baseball. I remember my dad talking about members of the team who were now our neighbors or who visited him during summer visits to our small town, Shepherdstown, WV. I didn’t encounter a lot of discrimination when I was growing up, but it was prevalent during my father’s generation. I was oblivious to the hard times he faced. He only spoke of the good ole days.
Hall of Famer Maury Wills, who played for the Dodgers, played against my dad and his teammates before heading to the pros. Maury Wills was from the Washington, DC area. He would visit my dad and other Red Sox players when he was in the area.
I remember going to see the Red Sox play in my neighborhood on Sunday afternoons in the 1960’s, yes they were still going strong. Members from the 1946’s team were the coaches. One of my brothers was the bat boy and our cousin kept score. One of the coaches lived several houses up from us and drove the local garbage truck. He was a happy man, he always whistled when he walked through the neighborhood. You didn’t have to peep out a window or door to see who was whistling that happy tune, everyone would say there’s “Charlie Butts.”
Everyone looked forward to the game on Sundays. The neighborhood had a ritual, Sunday School and/or church, a change of clothes, something to eat, and off to the game. This went on for years during my childhood. After the game, you headed home to a dinner of fried chicken, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, greens of some sort, homemade rolls or biscuits, Kool-Aid for the kids and iced tea for the grown ups. You could count on it. If the ladies/moms finished dinner early they would join the crowd on the ball field.
During this time, I still wasn’t aware of segregation. The neighborhood butcher, who was Caucasian was a member of the team as well as 2 other players from a neighboring town. As children we weren’t limited on who we could play with or where we could go in the neighborhood, and my parents never discussed their struggles. On Sundays we cheered on the team win or loose. The Red Sox were heroes in the neighborhood. I remember when they stopped playing in the early 70’s. I never knew why, I just knew they stopped playing ball on Sundays. Now when I look back on it, they formed teams that were integrated. I believe that ended the Negro Baseball League in our area.
This picture of dad and his team members and friends was given to us after my father’s death in 1998. My heart broke into a hundred pieces that day. The Bishop who did his eulogy told my family not to be discouraged. My dad was a great man and a leader in the community. He told me that one day my heart would heal. He also told me that my dad had helped groom him as a man and a baseball player. He gave the family a copy of this photo. My father was a humble man, we had no idea this picture existed. Many years later the same Bishop and my cousin named after my father gave an interview about the Red Sox baseball team to a history class at our local University. They donated their uniforms and gloves to a museum that is now telling the story of this African American team.
For years I couldn’t think about my father without my heart aching. It was just too much for me to bear. I am so thankful that my heart has mended and I can share a bit of my father with you.