Negro League Baseball in Chattanooga
› Where: Bessie Smith Cultural Center, 200 E. MLK Blvd., Chattanooga› When: May 2-July 30; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday; noon-4 p.m. Saturday› Cost:: Free on May 14; normally $7 adults, $6 for students & seniors, $3 ages 6-12, 5-under free, group rates available› More info: 423-266-8658
Hometown Teams: How Sports Shape America
› Where: 6th Cavalry Museum, 6 Barnhardt Circle, Fort Oglethorpe› When: May 7-June 18; Tuesday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.; opening festivities May 7, 11 a.m. through after-dark showing of movie “42,” including Vintage Base Ball tournament› Cost: Free› More info: 706-861-2860
The Chattanooga area begins a fascinating doubleheader this week. Two exhibits at local museums will give attention to area baseball history as part of the national whole.
"Negro League Baseball in Chattanooga" will run from Monday to July 30 in the Chattanooga African American Museum in the Bessie Smith Cultural Center on M.L. King Boulevard. Among other things, it will have a display about the Indianapolis Clowns barnstorming club that included Satchel Paige, and the memorabilia will include store-model gloves with signatures of the first black players at all positions to get glove-endorsement deals.
There will be references to other major league stars, including Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays, who came through Chattanooga on their way to national glory, and space also will be given to Chattanooga's own rich history of black baseball teams. The display also will include poignant images from local photographer Billy Weeks of youth in the impoverished Dominican Republic working on their baseball skills for hopes of joining the ranks of big-league blacks in the United States.
"This will be in our gallery where we do rotating exhibits. We try to bring in a new one every three to four months," said Dionne Jennings, president of the Bessie Smith center. "We want to give people a fresh reason to come to the center at least once a quarter. That's our goal.
"I'm personally excited about the Negro league baseball exhibit - and the timing of it," Jennings added. "It will take us past the Fourth of July, a day that goes so much with baseball. And we don't want to forget what local African-Americans brought to the city through baseball."
The other local exhibit will go beyond the diamond sport, but the longtime "national pastime" is a big part of what will be seen at the 6th Cavalry Museum in Fort Oglethorpe - and especially how it will be kicked off Saturday for its run to June 18.
The professional career of Los Angeles Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, a former Lakeview High School star and longtime big-league pitcher, is one of three local angles added to the touring exhibition from the Smithsonian's Museum on Main Street program. The exhibition pieces came in 21 crates that totaled more than 4,000 pounds, according to 6th Cavalry Museum executive director Chris McKeever.
"We're just thrilled we got chosen for this one," McKeever said, noting that 27 Georgia cities applied for the exhibit through Georgia Humanities and only 12 were accepted. "The Smithsonian people are pros at putting this kind of display together - they bring a big-time museum approach to a small town - and the fabrication of this one is just phenomenal.
"There are seven sections in the exhibition, and a variety of sports, not just baseball. There are sports cards that relate to each display. But one of the coolest parts is the baseball display."
That one includes three rows of bleachers with different-colored stadium seats that ask questions about baseball. The answers are under the seats. One, for example, explains the origin of the seventh-inning stretch.
"When we applied they asked for three local sports stories to include, and we included Rick Honeycutt, sports played on the military post that was here and women's sports at the textile mills in Rossville," McKeever said. "A lot of people don't know that during World War II, women who played for the mills provided sports relief, and thousands would go watch them."
The 6th Cavalry exhibit will begin with a bang Saturday, starting with a ceremony at 11 a.m. It corresponds to the opening of another Vintage Base Ball season and the Cavalry Cup tournament - with matches at noon and 2:30 and 4 p.m. on the old polo grounds at the museum. Arts and crafts and concessions will be part of the day, and at 7 p.m. the Jericho Brass Band will perform, followed after dark by a showing of the movie "42" about Jackie Robinson.
A presentation about the filming of that movie, with scenes from the shoots in Chattanooga and Birmingham, will be part of a program tentatively scheduled for mid-July at the Bessie Smith center, along with talks on Ferguson Jenkins - a former Chattanooga Lookout who went on to a distinguished big-league pitching career - and other black stars.
The gloves in the Negro baseball exhibit come from the collection of Chattanooga businessman and longtime umpire Dan Creed, who is a senior researcher for the Negro Southern League Museum Research Center. Creed has been working on a project specifically about Negro baseball in Chattanooga and has located numerous former players and relatives of players from those leagues, and some of that information and memorabilia about them will be part of the exhibit.
One of the local aces was Charles White, who pitched baseball against Paige and other pros before becoming a local softball star - and watching his son, Reggie, become one of the greatest players in the history of the NFL.
"There's a lot of history concerning black baseball in Chattanooga. The first newspaper article I found was in 1894," Creed said. "The Negro Southern League began in 1920 and lasted officially until 1951, and maybe except for a year or two it had Chattanooga teams every year. And Chattanooga still had traveling black teams into the 1960s. The last team was the Chattanooga Royals."
Noted historian Dr. Layton Revel came to town Saturday to help Bessie Smith employees and other volunteers set up their exhibit. Dr. Revel, who owns a group of rehabilitation clinics in the Dallas area, is the founder of the Center for Negro League Baseball Research, a nonprofit that has interviewed more than 1,500 former Negro league players in the past two decades.
"Black baseball history in America touches virtually every community," Revel said. "Every town at one time or another had a baseball team, and Chattanooga had a lot of black baseball. Not everyone can go to the museums in Birmingham or Kansas City, and Chattanooga has an interesting baseball history. That's why this exhibit is so important."
Sponsors for the Bessie Smith display include the center itself and the city, along with the Lookouts, ArtsBuild, Lowe's, SunTrust Foundation, Revel, Creed and two Friends of Rickwood board members in Birmingham who, like Creed, are NSLM senior researchers, Lamar Smith and Clarence Watkins. Smith will be helping set up the display, too.
Contact Ron Bush at email@example.com or 423-757-6291.