December 1, 2006

December 1, 2006

Project pitch and update: The Souls of Black Baseball

By Dr. Bob Allen
1007 Golfview Ave. #24 814-237-9471
State College, Pa. 16801


We have perhaps corresponded in the past and I have sent you a description of my project, an oral history of Negro League Baseball. This is the latest update.

The future needs of the project exceed the limited resources I have had available and have now completely expended personally to carry my project this far. Continued field work for interviews, and development of film and video, requiring both technical and financial backing, are the current priorities.

Put simply, at this point I am attempting to stay out on the road to interview remaining surviving players. Yet, I have completely exhausted my personal and family resources to do this work over the last six years. Nonetheless, I am determined to keep the project going. I urge you to help me rethink possible avenues of support and collaboration to keep this project moving ahead.

In recent weeks, I raised the minimal funds for a strategic trip to Florida and a special event for players there (report below). Among the interviewees was Silas Simmons, who turned 111 years old and whom I interviewed just two days after his birthday. He died only 13 days later. But with the Simmons interview and many others, I was able to expand my work and collection a good bit further, all on a shoestring budget, offered by friends of the project. Yet, the overall and real goals of this work will not be met ultimately in a timely way through this piecemeal and ad hoc fund-raising.

I look forward to hearing from you and receiving any suggestions you have regarding potential supporters and/or collaborative efforts to further this work.


Bob Allen

Florida Trip Summary for The Souls of Black Baseball Project:

On October 11, 2006 project director Dr Bob Allen was able to fly to Orlando, Florida at the invitation of Dr Richard Lapchick. Lapchick has been called the "conscience of sport in America."
Richard holds the following positions:
Chair of DeVos Sport Business Management Program
Director, Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport
Director, National Consortium for Academics and Sports
University of Central Florida
College of Business Administration

Lapchick and UCF invited Allen to give a lecture and hold sessions with 55 MBA students on the subject of Negro League Baseball History. The session was exciting and the students were very engaged in the discussion of and interest in this history and its implications for the current time.

With Lapchick and UCF paying the basic costs of travel to and from Florida, and part of the accomodations necessary for a visit, Allen was able to expand the trip to travel in the area and interview surviving Negro League Baseball players for his growing oral history video collection "The Souls of Black Baseball".

The outcome of the trip in the area was the garnering of 22 additional player interviews, and 2 additional non-player interviews. Notable among the player interviews accomplished was an interview with Silas Simmons, and filming of the birthday ceremony and historic celebration program for Silas, who turned 111 years of age on October 14, 2006. 200 some persons attended this event, including 30 Negro League and local Black Baseball surviving players and barnstormers from yesteryear.

Silas Simmons was born in 1895 and started to play professional and semipro baseball in the Philadelphia area around 1910, continuing to play until 1929. He has many recollections on Philadelphia and teams in the area, as well as nationally. Having moved to Florida in 1971, he still remains a dedicated and diehard Philadelphia fan, cheering on the Phils, the Sixers, the Eagles, and Flyers from afar.

The interview and event footage taken with Si will add to the Souls of Black Baseball collection a rare look into the already sizeable group of materials and interviews from the collection that now exceeds 350 hours of film footage. The Souls of Black Baseball project thanks Richard Lapchick and Keith Harrison of the UCF, Steve Horton and the Philadelphia PCDC, George Fosty of SONAHR (Society of North American Hockey Researchers), Charles Sackrey (Economics Chair Emeritus of Bucknell University), Joe Dorinson( Prof of History at Long Island University), Steve Millman, and Bob Rothouse (of the Pop Lloyd Committee), for being willing to help make this trip possible by generous in-kind or cash donations. Their generosity helped keep the project going this far and contributed to the addition of many fine interviews; as well as the preservation of the story and legacy of Silas Simmons, Philadelphian and Negro League player, oldest survivor of Negro League Baseball and of all baseball history, who began his career with the Blue Ribbons of Germantown.

A text version/article on the Silas Simmons interview will appear with the African American Ethnic Spots Hall of Fame Magazine.

Sadly, Silas stole home only 13 days after his 111th birthday celebration.
General project reference and description:

I write to you as I explore ways to 1) continue a project documenting an important segment of American History and 2) digitize and preserve for the future the contents of this growing collection. I would like to introduce to you below an oral history project designed to have eventual text and film components, with other multi-media possibilities as well. This work centers on the history of the Negro Leagues in baseball. One eventual use for the text and film versions of the project, will be their availability to young people and the general public, via programs designed to document and teach both the social context of sport and the history of baseball as experienced by people of color in our society. Our historical materials will be helpful to young people and older folk alike beyond the issues and arena of the playing fields.

To date, this project has collected over 350 hours of film footage of Negro Leagues histories. Yet, there is more to be done and further support to continue the project is needed. I work with a 501c3 educational group, conducting similar oral history projects for over 15 years now. I append for you a brief description of the project, and ask you to advise if your group might have interest in or support for this work. Thank you for your consideration of a work in progress.
Bob Allen

The Souls of Black Baseball:
Voices from the Field of Dreams Deferred
An Oral History Project by Dr. Bob Allen

Veteran of the Negro League Baseball era, catcher for the Philadelphia Stars, Bill "Ready" Cash can spin out a story that takes away your own breath as he tells it. Like the one about the 28 day bus trip the team took in the late 40's: going through towns 75-80 miles an hour because they had to make the schedule; blowing out motors and getting speeding tickets in the bargain; playing games along the way from Philadelphia, winding south 1900 miles away to Tyler, Texas.

On the field, in 105 degree weather, ready for the dressing rooms, but not allowed to use them. Had to go under the stands to dress. Only allowed a short run around the field for warmup as an old guy hollered from the stands, "nigger, I'm gonna shoot you." Says Bill: "We still had to play ball. Out of those 28 days we were away from home, we was in bed four hours. All the rest of the time we slept in the bus, traveling."

Cash continues the story, taking you on the northbound loop back home; like always, stopping now and then after games, at places that were open to get food, sandwiches, mayonnaise, meat, sodas, to eat on the way. Games along the way, night and day. Cash recalls: "One Sunday we played in Birmingham. They had a little kid 16 years old and his father didn't allow him to play, goin away with the team. He only played on Sundays. He was battin' third. Piper Davis was the manager. I said, Piper, you've got this kid hittin' third?' He said, you'll find out.' We were tied 6-6 in the seventh inning and he came up. Boy, I just knew we were gonna throw a ball by him. He got 4 for 5 against us that day. I hit a double off the scoreboard. The next guy hit a long fly to center field, he went back against the fence and caught it. I tagged up and went to third base. When I got there, the ball was waitin' on me. That little 16 year old kid was Willie Mays. Boy, he could hit, he could ...of course you know all about him...he could do it."

This and many other stories, some tragic and sad, others side-splitting hilarious, are part of and emerging from an oral history project by Dr. Bob Allen, a free lance writer and researcher, and former teacher at the Pennsylvania State University. Allen's travel throughout the northeast in the last six years, and his intention to visit and interview on film every surviving player from the Negro Leagues, was based on a three part goal: to preserve, promote, and promulgate the history and stories of Negro League Baseball.

To date, the project has collected over 350 hours of film footage of Negro Leagues histories. Yet, there is more to be done and further support to continue the project is needed. A detailed description of the project is available to all interested. In summarizing the project, Allen notes:
... without such histories being recorded, getting the actors to recall the play, and enabling future generations to see and understand the scene of the past "In time, we forget who we are." As players from the old baseball Negro Leagues probe the scars and remember the joys of their finest hours amidst the apartheid at the heart of the nation's pastime, this project will memorialize who they were so that we can better understand who we might be. Hopefully, it will make a special contribution to this important history of sport and American society; be of help and of use to veteran historians of the sport; and bring to life and keep alive the lessons and challenges we can all take up from this fascinating history.

For further information, enquiries, and suggested contacts to help Dr. Allen locate and interview players, or to provide needed support to continue the project, please be in touch with:

Bob Allen
1007 Golfview Ave. #24 814-237-9471
State College, Pa. 16801

The Souls of Black Baseball:
Voices from the Field of Dreams Deferred
An oral history project by Dr Bob Allen

The history of Negro League Baseball is a crucial part of the history of the United States. Without understanding it we will never fully understand who we are and could be as a nation.1995 marked the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Negro National League. At that time an estimated 290 players were still alive. Today less than one third of them remain with us. In Philadelphia, in 1995, fans and historians could meet with the seven Philadelphia Stars, veteran Negro League players; today only four grace us with their presence and living history.

Six years ago, I initiated the project of videotaping extensive interviews with every remaining player available to recount his/her story of playing in the Negro Leagues, during the Jim Crow era. Through the histories being recorded, I focus on how these players were shaped by the sport they loved, what character and resilience it formed in them, helping them play and not react violently to the pressures upon them. I particularly ask them to narrate and reflect on their own development as youth so that the interviews will eventually be available for exposure to the general public and used in multimedia form, but especially as educational materials for today's youth.

Langston Hughes ended his interrogation "What happens to a dream deferred?" by asking "Or does it explode?" The Souls of Black Baseball project portrays the history of Negro League Baseball and allow us to hear players' direct answers to these hard questions posed by Hughes. In psychological and sociological terms, we examine the violence done these fine players and their reactions at the levels of accommodation, resistance, and incorporation.

Through these interviews, I am amassing the kind of footage which will eventually be of public interest, as well as of use to a range of writers and historians, and for a range of purposes. I have myself the more specific interest and goal of editing these interviews in order to get at players' stories and experiences, so as to contribute to:

a) a broader picture of the history of the Negro Leagues...
b) an exploration of what Negro League Baseball meant to the black community...
c) a discussion of how and where the separate pursuits of black, white, and Latino baseball collided, met, merged...
d) a better understanding of the special problems of racism, seen through the important prism of sport in our society.

As evident from the interviews already collected and underway with former players, interviewees are narrating their own biographical sketches and self-reflecting eloquently on the racist, hostile, and sometimes overtly violent years that were the context of their playing years within America's apartheid baseball system.

To date, the collected interviews comprise 350 hours of film footage, including 150 player interviews, and 58 other interviews. Yet, there are dozens more players around the US who have never been interviewed. Time is of the essence to have these players contribute their stories. I have currently depleted all available personal resources for this project. External funding is being sought to continue this work as well as to take the next steps, toward development of the film footage into materials that can be used in classrooms and for public airing and viewing.

I look forward to discussing in greater detail the scope of this project, its current and future needs, as well as any interest you and your organization may have in helping to further and sustain the goals of this project.

Dr Bob Allen
814 237 9471