From the Community Times
By Barry Rascovar
April 2, 2014–SOMETIMES POLITICIANS ATTEND events they really enjoy.
It surely looked as though this was the case last Thursday for Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz as he cut the ribbon for a permanent exhibit honoring Negro League baseball.
The exhibit is a reminder of this nation’s shameful past. The National Association of Baseball Players banned interracial play in 1867. Nothing changed for 80 years.
The Hubert V. Simmons Museum of Negro Leagues Baseball conveys the importance of the courage of Negro League ballplayers who laid the groundwork for today’s integrated American pastime.
Spread out over three floors of the Owings Mills building that houses the newest branches of the public library and the Community College of Baltimore County, the Simmons museum is an eye-opener.
Thanks to Kamenetz’s perseverance, Baltimore County has a unique exhibit that tells a story everyone should know.
Until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, non-white baseball players had to show off their skills in “a league of their own.”
They performed on miserable fields, were paid low wages, were subjected to hostility from whites and had to navigate around segregation-era Jim Crow laws.
They did it “for the love of the game.”
Maryland hosted two Negro League teams, the Baltimore Elite (pronounced “E-light”) Giants and the Baltimore Black Sox.
The Black Sox started playing in Baltimore in 1916. In 1927, the barnstormers won 70 percent of their games.
The hometown Giants ruled the roost here from 1938 to 1950.
The team provided a launching pad for baseball stars Roy Campanella, Junior Gilliam, Joe Black and Leon Day – as well as a pretty good pitcher-outfielder, Bert Simmons.
After Simmons retired, he taught in the city school system for 30 years while coaching Little League, high school, American Legion and college baseball for 40 years.
His burning desire was to build a museum highlighting the Negro Leagues’ players and their struggles and triumphs. This led to traveling exhibits and a display in a Lochearn church basement.
Bert Simmons died two months after the church display opened. His cause was taken up by his widow and Ray Banks, a longtime friend and troubadour for the Negro Leagues.
When their paths crossed with Kamenetz, the politician’s creative mind started seeing possibilities.
Eventually, he persuaded the County Council to approve $125,000 to create a permanent home for this memorabilia and erect display panels, showcases, pictures and biographies of Negro League greats – from Satchel Paige to Josh Gibson.
The Owings Mills multi-purpose building proved ideal: it sits astride the Red Line transit terminus, across the street from a large residential development, draws thousands of people to the library and community college and is an education mecca for the community.
“Bert loved the game,” said his widow, Audrey Simmons. He also was “devoted to education,” she added. The county’s museum is the perfect place “where the story can be told.”