Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Negro Leagues comes to life in We Are The Ship

It’s been almost a week since we drove up to see Kadir Nelson’s We Are The Ship exhibit at the Eric Carle museum in Amherst. We received a flyer in the mail months ago and I wanted to see the work close up. The trip was hurried, to the point on Friday morning I was not sure if it would happen. Are we doing it? Let’s go….booked a hotel room and was picked up after work on a Friday and off we went. On Saturday there was little interest from the rest of the family on the subject or the sport. The Negro Leagues fascinate me. How a country can be so segregated as if we lived in two separate worlds. If you’re a baseball ball fan you heard of Satchel Page, Josh Gibson and Cool PaPa Bell who was one of the fastest men to put on a pair of spikes. The paintings capture life in the Negro Leagues, the colors, the players as if the dirt off the infield could breathe. It was a special trip since there were two former players there, Robert Scott from the New York Black Yankees and Gilbert Black from the Indianapolis Clowns. I’m grateful I had the opportunity to shake their hands since they lived a rough life and by the looks of Mr. Scott, each day is a struggle. Racism was a factor, although it appeared to be on the surface - a minor distraction. They loved to play baseball. Scott and Black shrugged their shoulders when describing some of the things they encountered, but when they described playing or travelling in the bus with the other players, the decades of smiles crept back into their faces as they reminisced for us. The book is impressive, it’s written in first person as if the player is taking you down a road where only a few could ride. One exception the book did not mention Cool PaPa Bell as one of the former Negro League players to make it to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. I wrote an email to the artist, but there has not been a response…With each passing year the players are passing and the history of the Negro Leagues will live on in the art and words by Mr. Nelson.

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