On Saturday, Aug. 11 from 10:30-11:45 a.m., the Virginia Historical Society (VHS) will host four Negro League baseball players at its museum located at 428 North Boulevard in Richmond. Henry “Pistol” Mason, Joe “Pop” Durham, Mamie “Peanut” Johnson-Goodman and Pedro Sierra will participate in an interview-style educational program answering questions about their Negro League ball-playing days and Civil Rights struggles in the 1950s and 1960s.
After the discussion, they will sign autographs and take pictures with visitors. In addition to meeting Negro League players, two Richmond Flying Squirrels baseball players will participate in the event. The event, titled “Pistol, Pop, Peanut & Pedro: The Negro League Baseball Experience” – is free and open to the public. Seating is first-come, first-served. The program is co-presented by The Center for African American Genealogical Research Inc. (CAAGRI), the Richmond Flying Squirrels, the Urban League of Greater Richmond and the VHS.
Of the close to 3,000 men – and three women – who played baseball for a Negro League team, fewer than 175 are still alive. Their appearance in Richmond marks the first time Mason, Durham, Johnson-Goodman and Sierra have participated in an event together in the city.
“The VHS is renowned for its manuscript and artifact
collections spanning 400 years, but it’s not everyday that we are able to meet the people who are the history-makers,” said Dr. Paul Levengood, VHS President and CEO. “By using their talent and dogged determination, Hank, Joe, Mamie, and Pedro pursued their love of America’s national pastime and contributed to the continuing stories that define Virginia and the nation. In the process, they broke records, color barriers, and glass ceilings.”
“I think one of the unique things about working in baseball is getting to learn about the history through stories from former players,” said Flying Squirrels Vice President and COO Todd “Parney” Parnell. “The Negro League players have an incredible story to tell, and whether you’re a baseball fan or not, I think it’s worth attending this event at the
Virginia Historical Society just to hear the stories of individuals who sacrificed for future generations.”
The first known baseball game between two named black teams was held in 1860. Because African Americans were not accepted into the major and minor baseball leagues, they began to form their own organizations in the 1880s. The Negro League – made up of various black major league teams from across the country – organized in 1920 and operated until 1960 when a flood of African American players signed with recently integrated Major League Baseball (MLB) teams.
Of the five Virginians inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, four played in the Negro League. Born in Marshall, Mo., in 1931, Henry “Pistol” Mason was offered a position on the Kansas City Monarchs baseball team at 19 years old. On opening day in 1952, Mason pitched 16 innings to defeat the Philadelphia Stars. In 1955, Mason broke barriers by becoming the first African American to play for the Schenectady Blue Jays, a Philadelphia Phillies farm team. After two seasons, with records of 12-4 (1955) and 14-7 (1956), leading the league with seven shutouts and placing second in the league with 176 strikeouts, Mason joined the Phillies in 1958 and played until 1962. After retiring
from baseball, Mason became a pastor in Kansas City. He moved to Richmond, VA, in 2001.
Joe “Pop” Durham, a native of Newport News, Va., began his professional baseball career as an outfielder in 1952 with the Chicago American Giants. The St. Louis Browns signed him in 1953. The following season, Durham reached the major leagues with the Baltimore Orioles, the second African American to play for that franchise. On Sept. 12, 1954, he became the first African American to record a home run for the Orioles. In his major league career, Durham spent time with the St. Louis Cardinals, served as a scout for amateur free agents, and as the Orioles Community Coordinator. He became coach of an Orioles minor league team in 1990 and retired from coaching in 1996. He currently lives in Maryland and serves as an Orioles Baseball Club representative.
Mamie “Peanut” Johnson was born in 1935 in Ridgeway, S.C.. At 18 years old, she was recruited as a pitcher for the Indianapolis Clowns and reported to training camp in Portsmouth, Va. Johnson played professional baseball from 1953-55 winning 33 games, losing eight, and having a batting average from .262 to .284. Johnson was one of only three women to play in the Negro Leagues. After her baseball career, Johnson worked as a nurse for thirty years. Prior to the 2008 MLB First Year Draft, Johnson and other living players from the Negro League were drafted by Major League franchises. Johnson was selected by the Washington Nationals, the team closest to her current residence of DC.
Born in Cuba in 1938, Pedro Sierra’s baseball career began in 1954 when, at 16 years old, he went to pitch for the Indianapolis Clowns. He played for the Clowns from 1954-55, and then for the Detroit Stars from 1956-58. After two-and-a-half-years in the U.S. Army, Sierra played with the Minnesota Twins (1962-66). While in the Canadian
Provincial League (1967-69), Sierra led that league in wins and shutouts and was named team MVP. In 1970 he played for Washington Senators farm teams and from 1971-75 Sierra joined Mexican teams. After a distinguished 22-year baseball career, in 1976 Sierra began working for the Montgomery County (Maryland) Department of Recreation, a job he held for 25 years. Sierra currently resides in Maryland.
“This is an American story about American sports,” said Paula Royster, CEO of CAAGRI. “We are celebrating the lives and accomplishments of these Negro League players, but also recognizing that they were pioneers for civil rights. It’s a story – a history – that is less known. We are honoring the players by bringing their experience into plain view.”
After the free educational programming portion, CAAGRI is hosting a ticketed luncheon. At the event – which begins at 12:30 p.m. and costs $35 per person – CAAGRI will present a 2012 Living Legacy Award to each of the four Negro League baseball players. The lunch includes a silent auction, raffle, and door prizes. Proceeds from the auction,
which includes memorabilia related to the Negro League, will be given to the Negro Leagues Baseball Grave Marker Project, a nonprofit organization started in 2003 to provide headstones for the unmarked graves of former Negro Leagues baseball players. Tickets for the lunch may be purchased at www.caagri.org.