Shadowball

 

Story Summary:

 Learn what the term “Shadowball” meant if you were a person of color who played baseball in segregated America in the 1920’s and 30’s. Bobby brings to life famed baseball players such as Cool Papa Bell and Satchel Paige, as he explores their triumphs and sacrifices.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Shadowball

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Compare and contrast the career of “Cool Papa” Bell to that of a white player of the same era. What white player would be comparable to “Cool Papa” Bell?
  2. How would Satchel Paige be treated if he were playing in major league baseball today?
  3. Was Satchel Paige “the first” to lobby as a free agent before Cat Fish Hunter and Curt Flood?

Resource:

  • Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns – DVD by PBS

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Bullying
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Bobby Norfolk and I will be doing an excerpt from a piece, a one-person show called Shadow ball.

Hello, my name is Bell. James “Cool Papa” Bell. Ha, ha, ha! I get to that in a minute.

But they had this thing back in the Negro National League, back in the day called shadow ball where the players would pretend in a pantomime. They’d be throwing balls from the mound connecting with the ball, catching pop flies and running bases. They call that shadow ball because Negro baseball players had to play ball in the shadows of white segregated America back in the day. Understand this, for 60 years, major league baseball owners and baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis bought Negro players in a so-called gentleman’s agreement.

But I joined the St. Louis Stars, back then a Negro baseball league. Heh, heh, heh! And I didn’t get my notoriety because of just my speed. I started off as a baseball player as a pitcher. You got that right, a pitcher.

I have knuckle ball that could tie batters up in knots. Now you gotta throw a ball softly without any spin or rotation on the ball. Get them batters all confused.

But then I got notoriety by my speed. I can run the base past in 12 seconds flat! Jesse Owens, that track star, he wouldn’t race me. He said, “Man, you one of the fastest men on the planet. Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh!

But one time, Oscar Charleston with the Kansas City Monarchs, on my same team, ooh, he was a no prisoner taken kinda dude. Klux Klan headed him down south and one day a Klansman took him up on his offer to confront Oscar Charleston. Oscar Charleston hit it to third. Pi-yow! Now he was runnin’ them bases and, all of a sudden, here’s the Klansman standing there, face in the sheet. “All right, boy! Whatcha gonna do?”

Oscar reached up, snatched the hood off the Klansman head. “Huh! You ain’t so big and bad now without your face being hid.”

“Ah,” people up in the bleachers, “Ah, that’s Mr.  Gilmore from the city council.” He ran back behind some bleachers, boogity, boogity, boogity!

Huh, huh, huh, huh, huh, huh! They also call our circuit the Chitlin’ Circuit. Yeah, because we had to stay in the rat and roach infested hotels and motels. We couldn’t stay in them white places. We could rip the white stadiums but couldn’t wash up in the white showers. Had to go down to a colored YMCA down the street.

And you better not turn off them lights in them ole nasty motels because rats and roaches and bedbugs will come all out. Ooh, ooh! Turn on the lights. Could not sleep under those conditions.

But then, 1945 came. People started speculating that they were looking for a Negro player to make it into the majors and people couldn’t figure out who was gonna be. Was gonna be Satchel Paige? Judy Johnson? Was gonna be Josh Gibson? Me? And then they saw that young black cat Ollie.

UCLA, X- Army Lieutenant Jack Roosevelt Robinson. Jackie Robinson took no prisoners either. Oh, yeah, he had a temper. But Branch Rickey Branch, Rickey who owned the St. Louis Cardinals and then owned the Brooklyn Dodgers., he told Jackie Robinson that for three years, he could not fight back or talk back. And for three years, Jackie Robinson held all that anger in him no matter how many people dogged him out and, uh, gave all of them nasty comments to him.

And even in Cincinnati, Ohio, he was out there and people were throwing things out on the field. And then that white boy named Pee Wee Reese came up out of the dugout, put his arm around Jackie Robinson and whispered something in his ear. And all the haters stopped hating. Right there with that Kentucky-Cincinnati boy hug.

And when Jackie Robinson put on that uniform of the Brooklyn Dodgers, that was the greatest day of my life. We finally could prove that we could hit, catch and run with anybody in the white major leagues. But by that time, after 22 years, my knees was wearing out.

You know, there was a baseball competition and some people said that the New York Giants scouts was looking. And so, Monte Irvin, another player with the Kansas City Monarchs, young boy, about half my age. You know what, I held back and let Monte Irvin win that title. That’s how he got chosen for the New York Giants.

But I tell you what. After I retired from the Negro Leagues, August 12th, 1974, I got inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Worked as a custodian, worked as a night watchman in St. Louis City Hall. When I retired, I got a stipend from the baseball commissioner’s office and from city hall, St. Louis. But some people say that I was born too early. Huh, huh! That’s not true. They opened them doors too late. But I was a good father, good husband, good baseball player with the Negro National Leagues. And I am the one who all these other guys making thirty million dollars a year, they stand on my shoulders and that’s all I can tell you.

Through the Eyes of York

 

Story Summary:

 In 1804, Lewis & Clark crossed The Great Plains and dangerous Rocky Mountains to finally see the Pacific Ocean for the first time! One person who was part of this Corps of Discovery was an African American man named York. While York was not always credited with his part in the Western exploration, his contributions were a large part of Lewis and Clark’s success.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Through-the-Eyes-of-York

Discussion Questions:

  1.  How did York’s experience of the Expedition vary from that of the other men?
  2. How was York instrumental to the success of the Expedition?
  3. What was Sacagawea’s impact on the success of the trip?

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • First Nations/Native Americans
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Bobby Norfolk and I’d like to do a piece from a one-person show called “Through the Eyes of York” based on the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Hello, my name is York. That’s right. Just York. Y-O-R-K. Born in Virginia around the year 1771, they tell me.

Now somebody asked me, “Why did they name you York anyway?”

Huh, huh! Good question. I was born New York town, New York County, near the York River. Now y’all do the math. Now my mama, her name was Mama Rose. My daddy. Huh, his name was Old York.

And I had no idea when I was a kid back in Virginia, I was the property of William Clark. You know, I was his body servant, fancy name for the slaves that worked in the house instead of out in the field.

While I was racing with William Clark one day, I was a fast runner, y’all, boogity, boogity, boogity. Ha, ha, I beat him. He got mad. “Mmm, I’mon beat you!” Hit me! Bam! Whoa! I hit him back. Boom! The overseer saw it.

“Boy, you hit Mister Clark’s son!” Hit me with a whip! Pi-yah! Oww! I ran to my mama. “Mama Rose, Mama Rose! That man hit me with a whip.”

“What man?”

“That man ova der.”

What did you do?”

“Nuthin.”

“York, we are owned by the Clark family. We are their property. You can’t knock that white boy down. You gon get us all killed; are you a fool? Now, if you hit him, you better not come back to this house. You don’t hit him back!”

“Yes, ma’am.” I had to sit down and think about that. Property? Owners? I knowed you can own cows, pigs, horses and chickens. How can you own another human being?

But I grew up. William Clark grew up. Then we became young men in our early thirties and a friend of William Clark named Thomas Jefferson. Oh, yeah! He lived up there in Virginia with another man named Meriwether Lewis. Well, Meriwether Lewis got this letter from Thomas Jefferson said he wanted us to explore this new territory altogether. And so, Master Clark took me.

So, we started off. May 14th, 1804 exploring the Louisiana Purchase territory. Science lesson.

We put our keelboats and pirogues in the water. Splash-ah! Going noff against the mighty current of the mighty Missouri River and so we put our poles into the river and we pushed the pole south. The boat, we goin’ noff! Oh, it was back breaking labor!  Kkk-kuh! And that mud was so thick, it kept getting my stick stuck. They call the Missouri River “Big Muddy” just because of that river.

Then, y’all, we got up into Noff Dakota. It was wintertime, ooh! Seven or below zero. We stayed with the Mandan Indians. The Mandan Indians did not live in tepees; they lived in earth lodges made out of earth and wood. So, they started to interpret back and forth to spend, ah, winter of 1804-1805 and, all of a sudden, the Mandan chiefs saw me. Unggg! They started pulling at me. I said, “What? What’s that? What’s their problem?”

They had never seen an African-American person before. All the thousands of years that the plains people have lived on this continent, York was the first African-American person they had seen and they thought my skin color was paint. They thought I painted myself brown. The bravest warriors, the most powerful warriors, the most courageous warriors in all the Indian villages would paint themselves with brown paint so they thought I were real brave. They thought I had been dipped in chocolate (pp – set to dry) ’til the chiefs tried to rub off my paint.  At the interpreter, “What are they doin’ rubbin’ off paint. Heh, heh, heh, heh! Tell them this is skin.”

They rub harder. Paint! I say “Oww! You gon start a fire in a minute. This is not paint!”

And they thought, at that point, I was a supernatural creature. They thought I was a shapeshifter sent down by the Great Spirit of a great mystery to visit and they called me Big Medicine, Big Medicine. They started following me around like I was supernatural. Big Medicine, he’s the one. Lewis and Clark said, “This is gettin’ otta hand! They think he’s the leada. York, York! York, York!”

“Yessir, what’s up?”

“Tone it down, tone it down, boy! You gittin’ too big for your britches!”

I couldn’t tone it down too much because the Indians knew if I would ever attack them, it would be the end of the Indian nations! Big Medicine would retaliate.

Well, one time, y’all, we wa goin’ over the Rocky Mountains and headed down into the colder regions and down into Montana and, all of a sudden, a big huge storm broke out and that storm was capsizin’ canoes. And we started swimmin’ back and forth and I saved all them supplies and I got some respect from them white boys after that. I was not just a body servant.

It’s about da time we finally got to Astoria, Oregon, we had to vote to say where we would spend our campsite in. I got to vote. Sa-cag-a-wea, which some of y’all call Sac-a-jaw-ea, she got to vote. First time that an Indian and an African-American person had voted in a government sanctioned election.

But we returned back to St. Louis, September 23rd, 1806. Only lost one man in that whole expedition, from appendicitis. The men, they got 320 acres of land, double pay – thousand dollars. I went to Mr. Clark. “Sir, mission accomplished. I may not get land or money. What about my freedom from slavery?”

He said, “York, I can’t give you your freedom. You still my slave!”

I said, “Sir. I beg to differ. I’ve worked with you for two years to get over the Rocky Mountains, go through the Indian Territory, get back to St. Louis. Give me my freedom, sir!”

“York, back up off me, boy! Can’t give you your freedom!”

I didn’t back off. I got insolent and sulky, according to him. He had overseers tie me up and whip me with 50 lashes across my back. I say, “Well, let me see my wife, sir. I haven’t seen her in two years. I’m the only man that was married in the Corps of Discovery.”

“How ‘bout y’all go see your wife down in Louisville, Kentucky. Mo… By the way, she gonna be sold off to another master in Natchez, Mississippi so you will never see her again anyway. Find yourself another white boy. And if you don’t come back to St. Louis in two weeks, I will send the slave catchers after ya and send you down to a severe master in New Orleans, Louisiana.

York returned back to St. Louis and it took five years for William Clark to give York his freedom. Somebody said his wife was in Nashville and he went looking for her in Tennessee instead of Natchez in Mississippi. Other historians claim that he died of cholera in the big cholera epidemic in St. Louis.

But I tell you what, long after York passed away, the former governor of Missouri Bob Holden made York Honorary Sergeant in the Missouri National Guard. Before William Clinton left the White House, he made York Honorary Sergeant in the United States Army. We have the U.S. Constitution and in it, we have amendments to correct our flaws. Better late than never for York to enter United States history. Through the Eyes of York.