Rochester exhibit shines spotlight on African-American baseball experience

From Jim Mandelaro at the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle on May 15, 2013, with mention of SABR member Priscilla Astifan:

It was the summer of 1949. World War II had been over for four years, and America was booming. More than six million cars and 10 million TVs were sold, and gas cost just 17 cents a gallon. In Rochester, a 15-year-old named Walt Williams was playing professional baseball for the Rochester American Giants, a team in the Negro League minors. And he could hardly believe his fortune.

“It was exciting — amazing, really — to be around all that talent,” he says. “Guys like Johnny Boy Bruce. Nate Wright. Vic Harris. They weren’t famous, except to kids like me. They could have gone on to play in the major leagues, but it was too late for them.”These days, the 78-year-old Williams is long retired from his job as a physical education teacher at Madison High. He works part-time as a security guard at the Rochester Public Library, and this month he has an extra skip in his step.

The library is hosting a traveling exhibit called “Pride and Passion: The African-American Baseball Experience.” It is modeled after a permanent display at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and will be at the library, 115 South Ave., until June 14. It traces the story of black Americans in the national pastime – from slaves playing on Southern plantations to current major-league stars.

“It’s a wonderful exhibit,” says local baseball historian Priscilla Astifan. “I think it’s important for people to see it, because it shows the injustices done in the past — what came before and the sacrifices made. They played for the love of the game, and under great hardship.”

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Originally published: May 15, 2013. Last Updated: May 15, 2013.