Negro League Exhibit

The Pittsburgh Crawfords, Negro National League champs for 1935, pose in front of their team bus. (Courtesy photo/MILNER LIBRARY)

NORMAL — A little bit of Cooperstown is coming to Normal next week.

“Pride and Passion: The African-American Baseball Experience,” based on the permanent exhibit of the same name in the Baseball Hall of Fame, opens Wednesday at Illinois State University.

Co-organized by the Hall of Fame, the traveling exhibit will be up through May 11 on the main floor of Milner Library.

Challenges faced by black players from the post-Civil War era onward are examined through original documents, photographs and artifacts from the Hall of Fame collection.

Throughout the exhibit’s run, a number of related events will be offered.

Chad Kahl, social sciences librarian at Milner and the exhibit’s program director, says the exhibit takes a look at six different eras, each with its own theme.

“Finding a Way in Hard Times” (1860-1887) looks at the 30-plus African-American players who were on teams in the 1880s, with opportunities diminishing as Reconstruction ends and segregation becomes the norm.

“Barnstormers of the Open Road” (1887-1919) explores the more than 200 independent, all-black teams that organized and traveled around the country.

In “Separate Leagues, Parallel Lives” (1920-1932), black pro leagues become both a source of pride in the African-American community, as well as a multimillion dollar enterprise.

“Paving the Way to Integration” (1933-1946) looks at how such legendary figures as Rube Foster, Buck Leonard, James “Cool Papa” Bell, Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige helped lead the way to league integration.

“Jackie Robinson Breaks the Barrier” (1947) focuses  on the player who broke the race barrier when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 — the first black player to play for the majors since the 1880s.

“Post-Integration Pride” (1948-present) covers such key historical moments as the 1971 induction of Satchel Paige into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

“A lot of people have heard of Negro baseball, but they don’t know much about it,” says Kahl. “This exhibit allows us to see pictures and information we wouldn’t see otherwise.”

“Pride and Passion: The African-American Baseball Experience will be on view daily during regular library hours. Admission is free.

Among the related special events scheduled over the exhibit’s run are:

-- March 30: Opening reception from 6 to 8 p.m., with speakers and baseball-themed food provided by the Normal CornBelters.

-- April 7: Lecture, 7 p.m., “Baseball in McLean County, 1857-1941,” by Bill Kemp, McLean County Museum of History historian and archivist.

-- April 15: Film, 2 p.m., “The Jackie Robinson Story” (1950), Bloomington Public Library.

-- April 18: Lecture, 7 p.m., “The Negro Leagues Baseball Grave Marker Project,” by Jeremy Krock, a Peoria physician leading a project to place markers at 25 unmarked graves of former players and others.

-- April 21: ISU Baseball Pride & Passion Day, 2 p.m., Duffy Bass Field, recognition day for Negro League history.

-- April 26: Lecture, 7 p.m., “From Cuban Giants to Cuban Stars: The International World of Black Baseball,” by Adrian Burgos, author and Latino history and sports specialist from the University of Illinois.   

-- May 3: Lecture, 7 p.m., “Negro League Baseball: Yesterday & Today,” by former Negro League player Ernie L. Westfield.

-- May 10: Normal CornBelters Game & Education Day, 10 a.m., Corn Crib, exhibition game tied to exhibit.

At a glance

What: “Pride and Passion: The African-American Baseball Experience”

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through May 11

Where: Illinois State University Milner Library

Admission: Free

Information: 309-438-7402

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