by Amy Nedrow, volunteer journalist with the Penn State All-Sports Museum.
On Monday, February 24, Dr. Bob Allen spoke at the All-Sports Museum. His presentation “The Souls of Black Baseball: Barnstorming the Keystone State,” an oral history of black baseball in Pennsylvania, highlighted the trials and triumphs of multiple African American ball players during their time with the Negro Baseball League.
Dr. Allen, a freelance writer and researcher, received his Ph.D. from Penn State in 1983 and was an instructor with the university throughout the 80’s. For Allen, this project isn’t about baseball in so much as it is about the sociology of America. As he stated, “…This project will memorialize who they were so that we can better understand who we might be. Hopefully, it will make a special contribution to the important history of sport and American society…” (purehistory.org)
Allen travelled throughout the North East and Florida looking for every surviving player of the Negro Baseball League. By the completion of this project, Dr. Allen had hundreds of hours of film footage and interviews. As part of his presentation, Dr. Allen showed a series of clips from these interviews featuring several members of the league spanning from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and finally Harrisburg; players at the heart of the leagues greatest teams—the Philadelphia Stars, the Harrisburg Giants, the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords, to name a few. These men—Stanley Glenn, Wilmer Harris, Bill “Ready” Cash and Harold Gould, among others—spoke about hardships on the road and racism they encountered on and off the field. They also recounted the general politics of playing baseball at that time. Among the humble reminiscing, comes a quiet sort of pride and a warm-hearted sense of camaraderie between these men regardless of who played on what team.
Through these interviews, Dr. Allen provides a rich and unique perspective to a time in history that many know little about. Given that the history is reported by the men who lived it, with so much understatement about their own impact on society at that time, makes it a warm and humbling experience for the viewer. “These guys integrated the country before it was integrated,” Dr. Allen pointed out in his conclusion. At a time when segregation was prevalent, these baseball players (along with other African American athletes) played an integral role in changing perspectives. The Negro Baseball League officially ended in 1961, but thanks in large part to the work of Dr. Bob Allen, the men behind the league will live in baseball & societal history forever.
Penn State alumnus, Cumberland Posey, Jr. was enrolled as the school’s first African American student athlete in 1909. He would go on to play for, then own, the Homestead Grays of Pittsburgh. To find more information on Posey, visit http://blackhistory.psu.edu/timeline/cum_posey_jr._first_colored_student_athlete
For more information on Dr. Allen’s oral history project, visit http://www.dreamsdeferred.org/.
Check www.gopsusports.com/museum/events.html for future guest speakers.