Ask a Negro Leaguer

Week of August 17, 2005

Hey Joe: A friend of mine that works in the office wanted to know if you knew Ivan Johnson of the Kansas City Monarchs. That was her uncle.

Diana Ware, Normal, Illinois

I am not aware of Ivan Johnson. Matter of fact, I'm not aware of many former Negro Leaguers. However, there is a book authored by Robert Peterson, entitled Only the Ball Was White, which has been on the market for numerous years. It contains an index listing players from many years back in the 1900s up until '50 and '51, which might be of great help.

Hey Joe: What is your opinion of the proliferation of churches in African-American areas?

M.C. Hammer, Oakland, California

Traditionally, as far back as I can recall, including my travel throughout most of the country during the time I spent playing ball, the church has been an integral part of the black community. For example, in my Brooklyn hometown, I grew up in a community of 2,600 people and 14 churches. Today, there are supposedly 700 residents and also 11 churches.

The source of these multiple sanctuaries stemmed from selfish, black so-called preachers -- who claimed to be called by God -- assuming the title "preacher" after vacating churches they were unable to head. Ultimately, they organized their own, which in most cases created occupations and a measure of prestige that satisfied their egos. Due to this kind of mentality, divisiveness permeated the black communities because of no cohesiveness. Rather than administer the Bible as prescribed, most have complicated it. Unlike men of the cloth -- such as the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rev. Jeremiah H. Wright and the late Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, etc., who refused to take a backseat to truth -- nothing positive can be said about spineless, self-proclaimed "reverends."

Most devastating is the mere fact that a sizable majority of their parishioners don't even know what happened to Pharaoh. Conversely, in defense of their Christianity, when faced by people who opposed their Christian views, immediately they are characterized as being like Paul, especially before Christ changed him. It has been this type of spiritual jargon coming from the various churches that saturate the black communities. For those who don't know what happened to Pharaoh -- and the preachers likewise -- God killed him for being wicked. Although this is my personal opinion, you're not mandated to accept it. Read the Book of Exodus.

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 didnt 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 Sportsmans Park, accompanied by lifelong buddy Eugene "Gene" Crittendon, who could pass for white.

Perhaps Henrys 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, theyd 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 [email protected]. If we don't like yours, we'll hit Joe with our own.

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