These monies will help maintain poet and scholar Langston Hughes‘ house in Harlem, New York, The Harriet Tubman Home in Auburn, NY, the home of Negro League Baseball star Satchel Paige in Kansas City, Mo., the Emmett Till Memorial Commission in Summer, Miss., ‘The Forum’ in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, the African Meeting Housein Boston, MA, the oldest existing black church in the U.S., and the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, among others.
In his announcement at 2019’s Essence Festival in New Orleans, Action Fund executive director Brent Leggs championed the importance of this work when he remarked, “The recipients of this funding shine a light on once lived stories and Black culture, some familiar and some yet untold, that weave together the complex story of American history in the United States.”
This year’s funds, provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, were awarded to key places and organizations that help the Action Fund achieve its mission of protecting, restoring, and interpreting African American historic sites and uncovering hidden narratives of African Americans and their contribution to the American story. Grants are given across four categories: capacity building, project planning, capital, and programming and interpretation.
Learn more about the full list of grantees by clicking here.
An opera about Negro Leagues baseball star Josh Gibson, whose power hitting rivaled Babe Ruth’s, will have its world premiere in Pittsburgh this April. “The Summer King,” presented by Pittsburgh Opera, premieres April 29. Gibson’s story also figured in “Fences,” the movie starring Denzel Washington that was originally a play by Pittsburgh native August Wilson.
Baseball and opera “don’t usually inhabit the same universe,” said Christopher Hahn, Pittsburgh Opera’s general director. But opera is the perfect medium for telling Gibson’s story because opera allows people “to sing about emotions and aspirations and fears.”
Gibson was one of the first three Negro Leagues players to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, which lists his career batting average as .350. He was twice named Negro National League batting champ and led the league in home runs three times. He played for two Pittsburgh teams, the Homestead Grays and the Crawfords.
Gibson died at 35, probably from a brain aneurysm, a few months before Jackie Robinson integrated baseball in 1947. Gibson’s story is “the story that came before Jackie Robinson,” says Daniel Sonenberg, composer of “The Summer King.” ‘’Josh’s career made the advent of Jackie Robinson possible. It was Josh who played at this high level that caught the attention of white owners. It was Josh who demonstrated it was competitive suicide not to integrate.”
But baseball’s integration led to the Negro Leagues’ shutdown, ending careers for dozens of black athletes who were not among the few chosen for white teams. Both “Fences” and “The Summer King” honor “a whole generation of wonderful players whose livelihoods and social structures got up-ended,” Hahn said.
“Most people know the story of Josh Gibson as a baseball player, a home run hitter compared to Babe Ruth with outstanding statistics, in the Hall of Fame,” Sean Gibson said. “But behind the uniform was a great man who lived through tragedy outside of dealing with racism and playing baseball: His wife died giving birth to their twins.”
The opera also portrays Gibson’s career playing abroad in Cuba, Mexico and elsewhere. “Over there they didn’t have to deal with racism,” said Sean Gibson. “You’re going over to Latin countries, your skin color is the same color as theirs.” Nearly all 14 principal roles in “The Summer King” are played by African-Americans, a rarity in operas (”Porgy and Bess” notwithstanding). Renowned mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves plays Gibson’s lover. Bass-baritone Alfred Walker, who plays Gibson, told the New Pittsburgh Courier that playing “someone that looks like me” is “an amazing opportunity.”
A ballfield named for Gibson is located in Pittsburgh’s Hill District neighborhood, not far from the August Wilson House, the late playwright’s childhood home. The August Wilson House hosts a block party April 29, starting at noon, just a few hours before the opera premiere, to mark Wilson’s birthday.
The Michigan Opera Theatre in Detroit plans to stage “The Summer King” in March 2018.
President Barack Obama on Monday honored former baseball players in the Negro League, a haven for African-American players who for decades were prevented from competing with white players in professional baseball. The White House said Obama invited about a dozen players to the White House to mark their contributions to American history, civil rights and athletics. The players competed for teams like the Philadelphia Stars, New York Black Yankees, Indianapolis Clowns and Boston Blues.
The Negro League thrived in the early part of the 20th century. Its decline started after Jackie Robinson in 1947 became the first African-American to play Major League Baseball in modern times, clearing the way for other black players to compete in the major leagues. The league disbanded a few years later.
This Saturday, April 13th, the Zimmer Museum Honors Jackie Robinson with Family Friendly Events & Activities in conjunction with the Sports Museum of LA.
Sixty-six years ago on April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in professional baseball when the Brooklyn Dodgers started him at first base, making him the first African American to play in Major League Baseball (MLB) in the modern era. This weekend, in addition to the national release of the Warner Bros. “42,” a feature film about his life, Robinson will be honored by a rare display of his, as well as Negro League memorabilia, at the Sports Museum of Los Angeles. This exhibit, hosted by the Zimmer Children’s Museum, coincides with Jackie Robinson Triple Play Day, which also includes family-friendly events, food, prizes and a historical scavenger hunt for kids.
Proceeds from Triple Play Day go to support the Zimmer Children’s Museum’s youth services program, youTHink, which empowers youth to find their voice around social issues that matter to them and make a difference in their communities.
Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson in a scene from “42.” (Warner Bros. Pictures)
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City was announced Wednesday as the host site for the only advance public screenings of a film chronicling the rise of Jackie Robinson, a nod to the city where the baseball great made his professional debut two years before breaking the major league color barrier. Harrison Ford stars as former Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey in the film, “42,” which details Robinson’s Rookie of the Year season in 1947 while combating unabashed racism on and off the diamond.
Ford and fellow cast member Andre Holland planned to attend the screenings on April 11 at a movie theater on the city’s north side. Proceeds will benefit the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, museum president Bob Kendrick said. Although the story of Robinson in Brooklyn is well known, Kendrick said Kansas City also played a prominent role in his early career. Robinson played for the Kansas City Monarchs, a member of the Negro Leagues, in 1945, batting .387 while hitting five home runs and stole 13 bases in 47 games. After a year in the minor leagues, he joined the Dodgers in 1947 and won the inaugural Rookie of the Year award.
Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play in Major League Baseball, was born in Cairo, Georgia, on Jan. 31, 1919.
Robinson had a litany of firsts in his career: He was the first Black television analyst in Major League Baseball, and the first Black vice president of a major American corporation. In the 1960s, he helped establish the Freedom National Bank, an African-American-owned financial institution based in Harlem. In the world of baseball, Robinson played a prominent role in ending racial segregation in professional baseball. Prior to Robinson playing with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, African-American players were restricted to the Negro Leagues for 60 years.