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Once Denied, Negro Leaguers Honored In Boston

Former Negro League infielder Mahlon Duckett signs a young fan's hat at Northeastern. (Jeff Carpenter for WBUR)
Former Negro League infielder Mahlon Duckett signs a young fan's hat at Northeastern. (Jeff Carpenter for WBUR)

Though he played in Boston during his 13-year professional baseball career, Mahlon Duckett never played in front of the famed Green Monster. He wasn't allowed to.

"It's a funny thing, we never played in Fenway Park," Duckett said. "(It) was one of the Major League ballparks that didn't let the negroes play in it."

On Thursday at Northeastern University's John D. O'Bryant African-American Institute — mere blocks from the park that houses the last baseball team to integrate — the U.S. Postal Service unveiled a stamp honoring the Negro Leagues. Days before, Duckett and former teammate Stanley "Doc" Glenn spoke about playing and traveling through a racially divided country in the 1940s.

New stamps commemorate the Negro Leagues and Andrew "Rube" Foster, the "father of Negro Leagues baseball." (AP)
New stamps commemorate the Negro Leagues and Andrew "Rube" Foster, the "father of Negro Leagues baseball." (AP)

"In just about all of the southern towns and cities we was (sic) unwelcome," Duckett said. "We played there and a lot of the whites came out because they wanted to see what Negro League baseball was like. But as far as the conditions, it was horrible, terrible. They called us names and we had no place to eat, as a rule.  A lot of times we didn't have any place to sleep."

Glenn remembers that while towns in the South were unfriendly, many in the North proved just as bad.

"All of the hotels in every city, North or South, were prejudiced and we weren't allowed," Glenn said. "They simply wouldn't rent you rooms, that's all. But that's the way it was all over."

Duckett, Glenn and their teammates were denied service in restaurants and were the targets of racial epithets and even fierce physical violence.

Duckett recalled a harrowing trip through Alabama in which white teenagers threw bricks and bottles at the team's bus. One of Duckett's teammates was hit in the eye.

"We took the boy to the hospital, the whole bus did," Duckett said, "but that was the end of his career because he lost his eye. But nothing was ever done."

"All of the hotels in every city, North or South, were prejudiced and we weren't allowed … But that's the way it was all over."

Stanley 'Doc' Glenn

For all of the terrible hardships Duckett and Glenn faced, they triumphed, too.

Duckett and Glenn played most of their careers for the Philadelphia Stars. Sometimes, they would play in the stadiums that housed the established white Major League teams.

"We would play at old Shibe Park, which is long gone," Glenn said. "And the Phillies or the Athletics would draw 10,000-12,000 people for a doubleheader, which would be on Sunday. We would have the ballpark — they would rent the ballpark to us for Monday night's game — and we'd draw 30,000 people."

Now 77, Duckett was a talented, smooth-fielding infielder. His greatest baseball memory, however, involves his bat. He remembers stepping up to the plate at an exhibition game at Yankee Stadium and looking around at the 50,000 fans watching his every move. Pitching was the great Satchel Paige.

"When you faced him you were just trying to get a base hit," Duckett said. "You know, Satchel didn't give up too many hits. And he threw me a pitch and I just swung and hit it. And I hit it to right field and it went into the stands and I was just as shocked, I guess, as Satchel and the other people because there wasn't too many home runs hit off of Satchel."

Glenn sees his baseball career as a window into our collective past — the ups and downs of his own life echoing the struggles of a nation seeking to define itself.

"It was bad all over, but America was tough at that time," Glenn said. "And we grew up. And I'm glad."

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This program aired on July 23, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

Jeremy Bernfeld Producer
Jeremy Bernfeld was formerly a producer for WBUR.

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