Ask a Negro Leaguer

Week of September 21, 2005

 Hey Joe: In light of the current gasoline crisis and the abandonment of the urban core by affluent whites and blacks alike, do you think suburban carpetbaggers who enter the city for sporting events and concerts should be charged a toll at the city limits, with the toll money being returned to the city's crumbling tax base?

David Brooks, New York, New York

I take for granted the city you speak of is New Orleans. If so, seemingly I have this penchant of daydreaming for the best. I did it every Sunday when I was a little boy, while gazing at the pictures of Christ and the beautiful scenery surrounding Him, which was displayed in the pages of my Sunday school pamphlet. I wished that I was there with Him. I had no such adoration for most preachers, nor was I a student of the Bible. During recent months, however, because of the gigantic commercialization of God for money by big-time black and white TV evangelists, I decided to study the Bible for myself. For some strange reason, I became imbued with the hymn, "Go Down Moses, Way Down in Egyptland/Tell Ol' Pharaoh to Let My People Go." With this song in mind, I delved into the Book of Exodus. My finding: God killed Pharaoh for upholding separatism between Egypt and Israel and for constantly going back on his promises to end it.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, I've constantly daydreamed that it is only a nightmare. Though when the news first broke, and I saw all of that water, I thought about many things -- the foremost being Pharaoh. I visualized him and his army perishing in the Red Sea, especially his army because of following the fool. When the blind lead the blind, they all fall in the ditch. Pharaoh, whose spoken word of righteousness was absolutely no good, violated the three principles of God's Law. They were: There shall be no other gods before me, love and obedience. In doing so he sealed his own doom.

In following the national TV coverage of the event, I saw two preachers, one black and the other white, announcing to the nation that all denominations were coming together for a common cause, when in fact the church is the country's single most segregated institution. I feel that such fence-straddling clergymen should clean their own house to set examples, while millions of people from all walks of life are left to exhibit Christian traits, whether in church or out, void of political motive. Benevolent contributors will demonstrate that in spite of some coming on slave ships -- while others came on the Mayflower -- Hurricane Katrina has proven that we are in the same boat now. Something that Larry Rice, a white St. Louis minister, has strived to do for years.

Prince Joe Henry, one of professional baseball's original "clowns," was an all-star infielder for Negro League baseball teams in Memphis, Indianapolis and Detroit throughout the 1950s. But up until the late 1940s, Prince Joe didn’t know anything about the Negro Leagues. His knowledge of organized baseball was limited to the Cardinals and Browns games he attended during his preteen years at Sportsman’s Park, accompanied by lifelong buddy Eugene "Gene" Crittendon, who could pass for white.

Perhaps Henry’s most vivid memory of those games: Upon entry, white ushers would politely escort the boys to a small section of the left-field stands reserved for "Colored." After climbing past several tiers of bleachers, they’d arrive at their stop, rows and rows behind their white counterparts.

Even at a young age, the boys were conscious of the double standard -- and determined to vent their disdain. The opportunity would arise with the urge to urinate. Rather than head for the latrine, the boys would edge their way to the front of the section and let fly. As the liquid foamed its way down the concrete steps toward the white kids, Henry and his pal would ease back and relax, politely rooting for the visiting team to beat the hell out of the Browns or the Cards.

After all, Henry and Crittendon hailed from Brooklyn, Illinois, a small, predominantly black township just east of the Mississippi River. So hospitable were the residents of Brooklyn that they were known to take in a rank stranger, treat him to breakfast, lunch, supper and a night out on the town -- and afterward, if he messed up, treat him to a good ass-whippin'.

Direct questions on any and all topics to heyjoe@riverfronttimes.com. If we don't like yours, we'll hit Joe with our own.

 
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