Program honorees pose for the camera. (Hamil R. Harris/The Washington Informer)
Program honorees pose for the camera. (Hamil R. Harris/The Washington Informer)

Andrew “Rube” Foster was more than a gifted baseball pitcher who in 1903 used his sizzling screwball to go 54-1 for the Cuban X Giants.

On Feb. 13, 1920, Foster organized the owners of various Negro baseball teams to form what would become the Negro National League that gave people of color safe venues to enjoy sports.

This month, the Publick Playhouse in Cheverly was adorned with memorabilia and descendants of legends as the Negro League Legends Hall of Fame Inc. honored Foster and some of the local legends of an era that has become a distant memory.

Prince George’s County Council Chairman Rodney Streeter (District 7), who chaired the Feb. 11 event, said that it is important to remember the Negro National League during Black History Month.

“Even though they were excluded from the game by their white counterparts, they persevered and went on,” Streeter said. “But there is a deeper meaning. It talks about the history of Black people: We are not only talented, we are compelled to move forward.”

Dwayne Renal Sims, founder of the National League Legends Hall of Fame, said that it was important to start a national tour of the Negro Leagues legends in Prince George’s County, where many sandlot baseball teams blossomed long before Jackie Robinson integrated Major League Baseball in 1945.

The commission assembled an impressive collection of photos and artifacts of the teams that played across the county. There were names such as the Brentwood Flashes, Clinton Yellow Jackets, Deanwood Eagles, Glenwood Braves, Lakeland, Laurel Allstars, Mitchellville Tigers and the Vista Yankees.

In the 1920s Foster organized teams in Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. In the years that followed, other leagues followed: The Negro Southern League (1920), the Eastern Colored League (1922), the Negro National II, and the Negro American League (1936).

“It’s just a great honor to have a Foster to be a big part of African American history,” said William Douglas Foster, an Upper Marlboro resident and great-nephew of Rube Foster.

Foster said he has been to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, twice because his grandfather Bill Foster was also inducted.

“My grandfather was one of one of the best left-handed pitchers in the game,” he said.

Cecilia Calloway, daughter of legendary singer and bandleader Cab Calloway, also spoke during the event because her father also owned a Negro League team. She even performed her own version of Calloway’s famous scat singing.

“I am here to bring resolution to our ancestors,” she said after the audience watched a video of Calloway and his band performing “Minnie the Moocher” at the Cotton Club.

Sam Allen, 83, who played with the Kansas City Monarchs in the 1930s, elicited laughter as he talked about playing in the final years of the Negro Leagues and when Major League Baseball started recruiting minorities.

“There were 10 of us in the outfield and they said that they were taking two, which meant that eight of us were going home,” said Allen, who came up from Norfolk, Va., for the event.

The Negro Leagues were still engaged in baseball up to 1960 but only the top players were signed by MLB. As a result Allen was signed by a minor league and one of his most precious moments was slamming a big hit at Yankee Stadium in New York.

“We used the major league stadiums when they had away games,” Allen said. “We made a lot of money for Major League Baseball because we would fill up the stadium.”

Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the...

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