The Untold Truth

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Story of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Kansas City, MO
An Untold Truth

Background

From the mid 1800’s to modern day, black baseball has had a rich history in America. The story, the history, and the accounts of black baseball in America in 1990 were neither documented in baseball record books or prevalent in African-American history educational programming. Though the stories were very much alive in the black baseball communities, in the families of the players, fans, and associates the black baseball stories were considered little more than folk tales.

The highlight of black baseball in America was the forming and surgence of the Negro Baseball Leagues. This powerful part of American history impacted many “modern day” African American successes. From Jesse Jackson’s father playing barnstorming exhibition games to Tiger Woods' father being the first black baseball player in the Big Seven Conference, it is the untold piece of our country’s Identity.

One of the more significant and vibrant hot beds for this history is Kansas City, MO. Not only is it the home of the famous Kansas City Monarchs, but it’s where the National Negro Baseball Leagues were formed (at the Paseo YMCA.) As in Pittsburgh, Pa., Birmingham Al., Newark N.J., and other cities that hosted Negro Baseball Leagues franchises, Kansas City’s community was greatly impacted by the existence of the Negro Baseball Leagues.

The Negro Baseball Leagues had a strong business and financial infrastructure that not only paralleled the Major Leagues in a lot of areas, but exceeded the standards set by Major League Baseball. The Negro Baseball League executives were strong leaders and innovators. For example, Monarch’s owner D.L. Wilkerson built the first lighting systems for night games and the leagues demonstrated diversity by accepting Hispanic and female players on their teams.

The players and the league itself had a lot of adversities to overcome. America was dealing with racism and unfair prejudice in social and business practices while struggling as a young country trying to find its identity.

Like the Major League Baseball All-Star games, the Negro Baseball Leagues All-Star games drew large crowds. The two leagues paired in exhibition All-Star games for a short while. The results were not pleasing to Major League Baseball. There is a story of Satchel Paige in an All-Star exhibition game, where he had the defense sit down on the field while he struck out the side. The dream of being in the Majors was a dream of playing baseball at its highest level and the Negro Baseball League players were doing just that.

The Negro Baseball Leagues gave players with the best ability the opportunity to play the game. Set in a time and place where the urban culture was Negro Baseball League; players like Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, Buck O’Neil and Hank Aaron; gangsters and politicians like Tom and Dave Pendergast, Charles Binaggio, and Harry Truman; and jazz musicians like Jay Mcshann, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Parker, Billy Holiday, Duke Ellington and Big Joe Turner, lighting up the streets, clubs, newspapers and baseball parks.

The Journey

A group of people from Kansas City led by Horace Peterson, creator and Executive Director of the Black Archives, took the approach of bringing certain awareness to the Negro Baseball Leagues. Their players, their great achievements, the enormous numbers of misinterpreted facts, and the lost stories were credited by forming the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

With 1,000 pounds of heart, a vision, and no real financial backing, Buck O’Neil and Don Motley along with small group of committed constituents (The Negro Leagues baseball Museum, a non-for profit organization) embarked on this ambitious task of building The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum to preserve, protect, and promote the Negro Baseball Leagues rich history. Their tangible assets were their personal experiences, their relationships within the history and their personal dedication in creating the museum.

It is very much a story from Rags to Riches. The first domicile was a one room office (about 12’ x 24’.) The staff was completely volunteers. There was a great number of people with serious doubts they would be able to complete their dream of creating the museum.

The Museum begin building assets by constructing exhibits with the facts and artifacts they owned and acquired. The small group paid most of the expenses out of their own pockets. They grew the museum’s assets very fundamentally within their capabilities.

The museum met a small owner/operated Display Company out of Abilene, Ks called ESA to design a gallery for the newly renovated 18th and vine District. ESA had some experience in developing assets for various museums throughout the country. The company was owned by Ed Scheele with his partner and wife Lynda Scheele. The couple’s vision for the museum gallery had an entrance and an exit to parallel the history. As you enter the museum, you are at the beginning of Black baseball. As you pass through the museum, you visit the chronology of events not only within black Baseball but coupled to significant events outside of Negro Baseball that give clue to the life and the times. The staff at the museum felt the Scheele’s had the right vision and that they were their designers

Kansas City felt it important to promote its baseball heritage by appropriating 2 million dollars for the build-out of the museum. It came with a couple stipulations that the museum had difficulty with. One; the city would select their designer/builder and two; the city would own the gallery. Mr. Motley and his group felt the agenda for the city was not conducive to the mission of the museum and decided that they wanted the Scheeles and ESA to build their gallery as well as have control over the future of the museum. The group was thenfaced with the challenge of funding and constructing the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum Gallery without the city's funding.

The Negro Baseball Leagues was formed because there was no other choice, if blacks wanted to play baseball they had to organize their own leagues. If the museum wanted the stories to be a part of our history, they would have to form their own method to institute and implement the facts. When Major League baseball allowed the Negro League Baseball stars to play in the Majors, it was the eventual demise of the Negro Baseball leagues. The museum did not want another governing body or another agenda to be the demise of their plight to preserve, protect, and promote the Negro baseball history. History would not repeat itself this time.

The City was not exactly thrilled about the decision for the museum to be independent and did not go out of their way to make the construction an easy effort. Phase by Phase the team met the financial and timeline demands in the construction schedule and after one year it was Opening Day, The Moment of Truth.

Naturally the city and the community were anxious to see the results of what was a largely publicized, controversial, and busy-buzzing story of the building of a new museum in Kansas City. There was a huge turnout for the anticipated ribbon cutting ceremony.

The Destination

The city celebrated the achievements of the museum staff (Don Motley, Ray Doswell, Bob Kendrick, Tom Bush, dedicated associates and board members) and embraced Buck O’Neil as the ambassador of Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Since the opening of the new gallery the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum has become a national designation by US Congress. Today the momentum has propelled the stories to reach millions of people world-wide and has instituted programming to involve the biggest stars and public figures. The museum’s outreach has impacted today’s youth to observe their past so as to build for the future, to envision the possibilities through what had been made possible, and to believe their behavior truly makes a difference.

With much yet to do, the leaders and staff of The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City Missouri have achieved their dream of preserving, protecting, and promoting the legacy of a culture in time and a time in our culture. The End? No, just the beginning.

 

NLBM HISTORY

9 / 28 / 1990
-Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Inc. is incorporated in Missouri as a not-for-profit corporation. There were 12 incorporators led by Horace Peterson and Buck O' Neil.
10 / 11 / 1990
-First meeting of board of directors.
1 / 1 / 1990
-NLBM moved into Suite 260, 1601 East 18th Street, Kansas City, MO (Historic Lincoln Building). Lloyd Johnson serves as first Director of Operations.
2 / 13 / 1991
-Reception at BEU/Lincoln Building commemorating 70th anniversary of the founding of the Negro National League at the Paseo YMCA in Kansas City, MO. (Ken Burns spoke at it.)
4 / 18 / 1991

-Buck O'neil is elevated to Chairman of the Board. Woody Smallwood is elected as President.

-First membership program launched by Don Motley, Membership Chair.

6 / 6 / 1991

-Starter Sportswear Company approaches NLBM about making an authentic line of NLBM replica apparel in exchange for a $25,000 donation. Offer is rebuffed and a licensing program is approved for development.

-Agreement is entered into with Center for Management Assistance to provide consulting services to structure and formalize operations.

8 / 1 / 1991
-Hall Family Foundation and the Hallmark Corporation purchase first two $10,000 corporate memberships.
9 / 1 / 1991
-Licensing program is started by Thomas Bush and launched. American Needle Cap Company is first licensee and pays a $5,000 advance.
11 / 16 / 1991
-First annual Buck's Birthday Bash was held to celebrate Buck O'Neil's 80th birthday.
12 / 1991
-Don Motley becomes volunteer Executive Director of NLBM.
2 / 10 / 1991 - 2 / 29 / 1992
-First temporary NLBM exhibit at Crown Center.
1 / 1993

-Larry Lester becomes first paid Research Director (part-time).

-NLBM begins effort to keep MLB from taking over licensing program.

6 / 1993
-First traveling exhibit entitled "Discover Greatness! An Illustrated History of Negro League Baseball!" is prepared by Smith-Kramer Fine Art Services. It will debut in new museum space in Suite 110.
6 / 1994
-Kansas City Royals begin annual "Salute to the Negro Leagues" games.
8 / 1994
-Ray Doswell hired as full-time Curator.
10/ 27-29 / 1995
-75th Anniversary Player Reunion held in Kansas City. 200 players and guests attend.
6 / 20 / 1996
-Kauffman Foundation donates $250,000 and pledges another $250,000. Capital campaign is launched.
4 / 1996
-Western Union-sponsored exhibit "Tribute to Negro Leagues Baseball" hits the road.
9 / 5 / 1997
-NLBM Museum opens at 1616 East 18th Street. It offers a 10,000 square foot multi-media exhibit.
9 / 26 / 1996
-KCPL ($100, 000), Sprint ($150,000) and Western Resources ($50, 000) donate to campaign.
12 / 19 / 1996
-Coors makes first payment on it's $500,000 10-year sponsorship.
10 / 31 / 1997
-First annual Night of the Harvest Moon Children's festival held.
11 / 1 / 1997
-Grand opening is held with 1,700 in attendance.
2 / 1998
-Bob Kendrick is hired as Director of Marketing / Development.
9 / 1998
-Partnership with K-State University and Spring Hill School District begins.
8 / 1999
-First annual Buck O'Neil Golf Classic is held.
5 / 2000
-State Farm Legends Luncheons Series debuts.
11 / 17 / 2000
-Second NLB player reunion held in Kansas City.
2 / 2001
-First Legacy Awards Banquet held.
6 / 2001
-First annual Greater Kansas City Sports Commission - Sponsored "Buck O'Neil Negro Leagues Baseball Classic" starts.
11 / 12 / 2001
-New traveling exhibit "Buck: Right on Time" opens.
3 / 2003
-Coors agrees to a 10-year $1 million sponsorship and NLBM renames "Coors Field of Legends".
8 / 15 / 2003
-Ford Motor Company-sponsored "Shades of Greatness" art exhibition opens at NLBM before it begins touring the U.S.
6 / 12 / 2004
-Latin Legacy Weekend Celebration.
Spring / 2005
-NLBM becomes developer of Paseo YMCA building project for purposes of creating Buck O'Neil Education and Research Center.
8 / 4 / 2005
-NLBM acquires Paseo YMCA building.
2 / 2006
-Nike unveils its "Untold Truth" licensed NLB apparel and footwear collection.
4 / 2006
-Rodeway Express-sponsored traveling exhibit "Times of Greatness" hits the road for a tour of major and minor League ballparks.
7 / 2006
-NLBM is officially designated by U.S. Congress as "America's Negro Leagues Baseball Museum."
-Presently The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is open to the puplic
and hosts thousands of visitors every year.

 

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