Feb. 20, 2011
By Jon Cooper
In September of 1961, African-Americans were still living under the indignity of segregation.
It might be difficult to imagine enduring the inequalities of discrimination yet retaining dignity and enjoyment for living. “Shades of Greatness – Art Inspired by Negro Leagues Baseball” will help offer some insight.
A part of Georgia Tech’s recognition of the 50th anniversary of the first African-Americans to enroll at the school, the exhibit of paintings and photos is on display through March 20th at the Neely Gallery of the GT Library and Information Center. (It’s open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 5:00 on Sunday, and is free to the public; a photo ID is required to enter the library).
“We are having a year-long celebration of this anniversary that started last homecoming and will extend through homecoming of 2011,” said Dr. Gary S. May, Steve W. Chaddick School Chair of the School of Electrical & Computer Engineering. “As a part of the celebration we thought it would be very important to find a way to connect the African-American experience to the African-American athlete and their experience. One of our committee members was aware of this exhibit, because she had actually seen it in Boston. It has been traveling around the nation for several years now and we thought it would be a good idea to bring it to Tech and use Negro League Baseball as a lens through which we can discuss the African-American experience in sports as well as in society at large.”
The Negro Baseball Leagues existed in different forms, beginning in the 1880s and lasting through the 1950s. They produced a plethora of legends, including Leroy “Satchel” Paige, Josh Gibson, James “Cool Papa” Bell, and Andrew “Rube” Foster, as well as Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play in the Major Leagues, Larry Doby, who broke the color barrier in the American League, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Roy Campanella, and Don Newcombe.
That is just a sampling of the Negro League alumni in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
But “Shades of Greatness” is about much more than baseball.
“This is a period of U.S. history that we’re not all together proud of, in terms of segregation was occurring,” May said. “At the same time, it gives us quite an opportunity to learn more about ourselves and how that period of time evolved into where we are today. So, I think even people that aren’t sports fans or baseball fans will get something out of the learning about the evolution of society through that sports experience.”
May pointed to a painting called, `Sunday Best,’ by Keith Shepherd, a snap shot of sorts of a crowd of Kansas City Monarchs celebrating a rally.
“There are no baseball players in the painting but is basically a crowd shot of all the people enjoying the game,” he said. “These were real social experiences during that period of time. There were some things that African-Americans could not attend but these baseball games were a big social outlet for people. In this particular painting you see people having a real good time, enjoying a game and having an outlet for all of their emotion and all the other things that were going on. The game was a great place to meet friends and have fun and experience some entertainment as well.”
Another painting, “Game Day” by Kenneth Stanford, portrays fans’ joyful anticipation surrounding these games in defiance of the abounding signs of segregation.
“People dressed up. This was our opportunity to experience our best. These were events,” May said. “These weren’t just games. These were an opportunity for African-American people to be proud of, in this case, our baseball prowess. At the same time, you can’t escape the fact that there was segregation and there were limitations placed on our people at that time. I think the painting presents an interesting contrast in those aspects.”
The exhibit, developed by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, contains approximately 35 works in all.
In addition to the exhibit, a symposium will be held March 3, which will feature former Negro League player James “Red” Moore, author James Riley, who is referred to as “The Dean of Negro League Baseball,” Georgia Tech head coach Danny Hall, as well as K.G. White, one of Tech’s first African-American athletes.
Sting Daily will have more on that in the coming days.