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A museum of their own

Hall keeps alive memories of Negro Leagues Baseball

negro.baseball.strip.jpg
The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum recognizes athletes who played baseball while enduring segregation  

February 2, 2001
Web posted at: 11:06 AM EST (1606 GMT)



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KANSAS CITY, Missouri (CNN) -- Enter the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and one thing is apparent: There's a baseball diamond and you can't get on it.

The reason? A cage of chicken wire blocks your path. That wire is strongly symbolic, says museum curator Ray Doswell: "You're not allowed to get on the diamond, just as those players were not allowed access to fame or to playing baseball the way they wanted to."

The Negro Leagues museum was created to remember the often-forgotten stories of legendary athletes who built a baseball league in the midst of segregation.

Founded in 1920 under the guidance of Andrew "Rube" Foster, a former player, manager and owner for the Chicago American Giants, the league grew to support teams in major U.S. cities.

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HighWired.com: African-American baseball leagues
 

"You learn what they had to endure to build this enterprise, but you also learn what an incredible enterprise they were able to sculpt out of the hardships of segregation," says Bob Kendrick, director of marketing at the museum.

So a tour of the museum begins with the symbol of that segregation -- a chicken wire fence.

Before visitors can get on that "field of legends," they learn the stories of ballplayers so talented it makes many wonder what records they would have shattered if they had been allowed in the segregated major leagues any earlier.

Josh Gibson, for example, was called the "Black Babe Ruth," hitting 962 home runs before an early death at 35, three months before Jackie Robinson's major league debut.

The Kansas City Monarchs introduced night baseball five years before the major leagues did. And when Robinson was signed to the Dodgers and baseball was integrated, it was the Monarchs that he left for New York.

The best black players were soon signing contracts with the major leagues, and black fans followed. As a result, the last Negro Leagues teams folded in the early 1960s.

Hank Aaron, the Hall of Famer who shattered Babe Ruth's record by hitting 755 home runs, said the museum, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in January, offers a glimpse at a time about which many people don't know.

Aaron, who played a few months as a shortstop with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League, said, "It makes me feel good to walk through there and know that some of the things that Negro League players played for has been preserved, and people can go in there, and look at it."



RELATED STORIES:
On integration anniversary, racial divide still troubles University of Georgia
January 9, 2001
Old-timers reminisce about Negro Leagues
November 19, 2000
Segregation now? Some still see racial divide on campus
May 30, 2000
Hank Aaron: 'I knew it would happen'
April 8, 1999

RELATED SITES:
Negro Leagues Baseball Museum
Major League Baseball

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