In the foreword to A Negro League Scrapbook, Buck O’Neil, former player/manager for the Kansas City Monarchs and the first black major league coach, says “Segregation was the only reason the Negro Leagues existed. Negro League baseball was outstanding.”
The players—most of whom never donned major league uniforms—were equal to, and sometimes better than, their white counterparts. Negro League and Major League players faced off in numerous exhibition games. Negro League teams usually won those contests, O’Neil explains, because the African-American players had something to prove.
From 1919 to 1963, Negro League teams crisscrossed the country, thrilling fans with crafty pitches, frequent bunts, hit-and-run plays, and stolen bases—all without big salaries or a level playing field.
Jackie Robinson, who began his career with the all-black Kansas City Monarchs, took the Negro League’s fast-paced brand of play with him to the Brooklyn Dodgers, stealing home during the 1955 World Series. Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947—a milestone that O’Neil considers the first pitch of the Civil Rights Movement.
Since 1971, more than twenty Negro League players have been inducted—some posthumously—into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Carole Boston Weatherford’s A Negro League Scrapbook recreates what life was like on and off the field for African American baseball players before Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier. With lively verse, fascinating facts, and archival photographs, this is a celebration of the Negro Leagues and the stellar athletes who went unrecognized in their time.
One reviewer claimed that my book, The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip Hop, surprised him. “I didn’t take Carole Weatherford for a hip-hop head,” he confessed.
Maybe not. But I have designed and taught a hip-hop course for college students. I write poetry and stories steeped in oral traditions. And I was raised on family lore; street, playground and handclap rhymes; proverbs; spirituals; and the call-and-response of the black church. As a child, I also read Langston Hughes poems and chanted James Brown’s anthem, “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud.” I later tuned into Gil Scott Heron’s spoken word manifesto, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.”
Back in the day, I partied to Whodini, the Fat Boys and Run DMC, but did not fathom the power of rap until 1981 when I heard “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. The song confirmed for me that rap is rooted in resistance.
Rap originated in the late 1970s among alienated black and Latino youth in the Bronx, Harlem and Brooklyn. The genre has since come of age, and rappers have won Grammys for best album (The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in 1999) and best song of the year (Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” in 2019). In 2017, Kendrick Lamar won the Pulitzer prize for music, a first for rapper.
Today, hip hop is the language of global youth culture. Rap reveries have replaced hoop dreams, especially as a male rite of passage. A vehicle for self-expression, hip hop gives youth validation and agency. Despite rap’s rebellious vibe, the genre has form and makes use of figurative language.
Here’s how I harness the power of hip hop in the classroom. I discuss rap’s roots in oral traditions and its use of poetic elements. I show documentaries on the pillars of hip hop: graffiti, breakdancing, deejaying and emceeing. We study how rap influences pop culture, politics and commerce. Finally, I get students to write homages, confessional lyrics, social commentary and/or advertising jingles. My son and collaborator, poet/illustrator Jeffery Weatherford, amps up the excitement with a mini-studio that lets students download beats, record lyrics and mix audio. Mobile apps can produce similar results.
Like the genre itself, rap workshops convey to students that their voices deserve to be heard.
Carole Boston Weatherford has written many books inspired by oral traditions, including The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip Hop, illustrated by Frank Morrison. Here is Vicki Cobb's review.
Carole Boston Weatherford
The Poet Professor
Booker T. Washington was an African American educator; Julius Rosenwald, a tycoon descended from an immigrant. Together, they planted the seed for thousands of public schools in rural communities during the segregation era
In 1881, the formerly enslaved Washington founded Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Washington held the controversial view that Blacks should focus on economic and educational progress rather than equal rights. At the same time, he advocated for Black businesses and secretly funded civil rights lawsuits.
n 1912, Julius Rosenwald, the president of Sears, Roebuck and Company, joined Tuskegee Institute’s board of trustees. Rosenwald opposed racism and wanted to use his fortune to help others. Washington suggested funding schools in rural African-American communities, many of which were still using ramshackle Freedmen’s Bureau facilities.
From 1917 to 1932, the Rosenwald Fund awarded seed money—matching grants averaging $600—to construct more than 5,000 schools in 15 states. Communities had to raise additional funds, secure land and build the schools using blueprints from Tuskegee’s architecture department. The residents also bought supplies, fuel, and sometimes, school buses. The grants stipulated that the white community had to contribute to the building projects as well and that the state had to maintain the new schools.
In some areas, Rosenwald schools were the first educational institutions open to African Americans. Most Rosenwald schools lacked electricity or indoor plumbing and relied on hand-me-down furniture and textbooks from whites-only schools. Despite limited resources, Rosenwald schools were beacons of educational opportunity for generations growing up in the segregated South.
After integration, the schools closed and most were torn down. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has listed the remaining structures as endangered historic places.
The Rosenwald schools’ rich legacy offers lessons about community, anti-racism and the value of education.
Poem: Taking Root
(from Dear Mr. Rosenwald)
The church deacons voted to give an acre
Of land for a new school. Space
For a building, playground and garden.
Land that would have been used for graves.
Now, a seed is sown instead.
Carole Boston Weatherford, a Newbery Honor author, wrote the picture book Dear Mr. Rosenwald, an NAACP Image Award finalist and Golden Kite Honor winner illustrated by C. Gregory Christie.
Carole Boston Weatherford
The Poet Professor
According to family lore, my relative Fayett Johnson was lynched in Bristol, Virginia. Not surprisingly, my research produced no clues beyond a fatal house fire. Many lynchings went unreported and remain unsolved. This question poem evokes the climate of hate that fueled lynch mobs and the mystery surrounding so many such crimes.
On that day my family has tried to forget
Were buds on the branches or did leaves shade the lawn?
Were the trees adorned in red and gold or sheathed in ice?
What had Fayett done to land in jail?
Did he wink at a white girl who smiled at him?
Or had he simply sassed the wrong white man?
How many days was he locked up
before the masked mob took the law
into its hands and snatched him from that cell?
Who was in the mob? The doctor, the shopkeeper?
Did it swell to hundreds? Thousands? And did they advertise?
Could the sheriff have stopped them if he’d tried?
Did they drag Fayett down a dusty road
to a clearing in the woods? Or to a bridge?
What if they marched him to the square?
Did families flock to the spectacle as if a picnic or a fair?
Were there boys in caps and girls with bows?
Who would miss this?
Was a rope waiting on a limb? Did they make him climb
A ladder? Thread his head through a noose?
Was there a hush as his body dropped, as his neck broke?
Did the mob strip Fayett
And then light kindling beneath his limp body?
Did they swap jokes as flesh charred?
Did the onlookers clamor for bits of rope and bone
and scraps of overalls? Did they sever body parts as souvenirs?
Did this horror make headlines?
Did a photographer snap a penny postcard?
Was that dread or sick delight on the faces in the crowd?
Did a single soul cringe or shed a tear?
When the news reached Fayett’s folks
Did his father pound his fists and his poor mother faint?
Did he leave a wife or children? Or just unrealized dreams?
Months later, when grass covered his grave,
Did his dog wait on the porch for his return?
Did his family mention that day only in whispers?
A century later, does that tree still stand?
Carole Boston Weatherford's book, Birmingham, 1963 is a poetic tribute to the victims of the racially motivated church bombing that served as a seminal event in the struggle for civil rights. In 1963, the eyes of the world were on Birmingham, Alabama, a flash point for the civil rights movement. Birmingham was one of the most segregated cities in the United States. Civil rights demonstrators were met with police dogs and water cannons. Archival photographs with poignant text written in free verse offer a powerful tribute to the young victims.
For Vicki Cobb's BLOG (nonfiction book reviews, info on education, more), click here: Vicki's Blog
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