If you’ve ever wanted to see Satchel Paige and the other stars from the Negro Leagues, go to the museum in Kansas City that’s celebrating the 100th year of when Rube Foster signed the charter creating the league.
Satchel, on the mock “mound” above, stares down a “batter,” surrounded by some of the great bronze stars of the game. He’d be “pitching” to the great Josh Gibson, whom I’m standing behind while I’m taking this photo.
The Negro National League was born on February 13, 1920, at the Paseo YMCA in Kansas City, MO, when Foster brought everything together in the 18th and Vine section of the city, then known as a cultural crossroad where jazz and baseball intertwined.
John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil, former first baseman of the Kansas City Monarchs, and true ambassador of Kansas City itself, began the museum in a small storefront in the shadow of the the Paseo YMCA, in 1990. Since my husband is a native of Kansas City, I once took our children to the smaller museum, and Buck himself gave us personal tours. He was one of the kindest, most outgoing people I’d ever met. He brought us to every exhibition and explained minute details about not only his experience as a Negro League player, but also gave us an idea of what it was like to play during segregated times. (Below is a photo of the Buck O’Neil statue at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY–photo by Wanda Fischer)
When the museum expanded, essentially across the street from the original storefront, it went into a larger spot, shared with the Jazz Museum. Current Executive Director Bob Kendrick spends much time traveling the United States and Canada, telling the story of the museum and the people it commemorates, as well as the story of the racism that made it necessary.
Kendrick and his associates are in the process of expanding the museum after having acquired the Paseo YMCA, where the original charter was signed. The goal is to display more artifacts and to have more space for events. While the Paseo YMCA was being renovated, it was vandalized, as someone cut the water lines and flooded the interior. This was right around the time when an arsonist set Satchel Paige’s house on fire, after the Museum had acquired it and had hoped to restore the property. At first, Kendrick didn’t want to believe these were racially-motivated events, but he came to realize they were. People from all over the world, including many Major League Baseball players, contributed to the Museum to help financially with fixing the vandalized Paseo building. With the COVID19 pandemic, the actual opening of the newly renovated building has yet to take place.
I have visited this museum since it was crammed into a tiny storefront and have watched it grow into a magnificent historical presence. My children (who are now in their forties) walked with Buck O’Neil and heard his stories. When I saw him in the early 2000s at Kaufman Stadium in Kansas City, he remembered me. He was ever-present at Royals games until his death. He laso wrote a compelling book, I Was Right On Time, about his experiences in the Negro Leagues and beyond.
Americans need to know the truth about this country’s history, especially its racial background. Much of it is available in the Negro Leagues Museum, told through the eyes of the National Pastime. It’s an experience well worth the time and travel.