Former Boston Red Sox infielder Elijah “Pumpsie” Green, the first black player on the last major league team to field one, has died. He was 85.
The Red Sox said Green, who lived in California most of his life, died Wednesday at in a hospital in San Leandro, near Oakland; no cause of death was immediately available. The team observed a moment of silence before its game against the Toronto Blue Jays.
“Pumpsie Green occupies a special place in our history,” Red Sox owner John Henry said. “He was, by his own admission, a reluctant pioneer, but we will always remember him for his grace and perseverance in becoming our first African-American player. He paved the way for the many great Sox players of color who followed. For that, we all owe Pumpsie a debt of gratitude.”
A light-hitting second baseman and shortstop, Green brought baseball’s segregation era to an end of sorts when he entered a game against the Chicago White Sox as a pinch-runner for Vic Wertz on July 21, 1959 — more than a dozen years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Green joined the team on a road trip and had played nine games before taking the field at Fenway Park for the first time. Green said this year in an interview with NESN, the Red Sox TV network, that he remembered receiving a standing ovation when he came to the plate, batting leadoff.
“It was heart-warming and nerve-wracking,” he told reporters in 1997, when he returned to Boston to take part in ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of Robinson’s debut. “But I got lucky: I hit a triple off the left-center fence.”
Born in Boley, Oklahoma, he moved with his family to California at a young age and met his wife Marie Presley at Contra Costa Junior College. He made his professional baseball debut at 19 years old for the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League and was named the California League’s Most Valuable Player in 1955.
The Red Sox purchased his contract, and he attended his first spring training with the club in ’56. He was added to the club’s 40-man roster in September of 1958.
Green didn’t have the talent of Hall of Famers like Robinson and Larry Doby, who was the first black player in the American League. The Red Sox infielder reached the majors as a role player, just once playing more than 88 games, and never hitting more than six homers or batting better than .278.
Green played parts of four seasons with the Red Sox before finishing his career with one year on the New York Mets. In all, he batted .246 with 13 homers and 74 RBIs.
But his first appearance in a Boston uniform ended baseball’s ugliest chapter, and the fact that it took the Red Sox so long left a stain on the franchise — and a void in the trophy case — it is still trying to erase.
The Red Sox had a chance to sign Robinson in 1945, before the Dodgers, and Hall of Famer Willie Mays a few years later; they chose not to, decisions that help explain the 86-year World Series championship drought that didn’t end until 2004. Last year, acknowledging the poor racial record of longtime owner Thomas A. Yawkey, the team expunged his name from the street outside the ballpark.
A few days after Green was called up, the Red Sox added Earl Wilson, a black pitcher. Green said there was an informal quota system that required teams to have an even number of black players so they would have someone to room with on the road.
They were among the few blacks in the clubhouse, the front office or the crowd, Green said in ’97.
“Most of the time it was just me,” he said. “It was almost an oddity when you saw a black person walking around the stands.”
But unlike Robinson, Green said, he received no death threats. “It was mostly insults,” he said then.
“But you can get those at any ballpark at any time,” he said. “I learned to tune things out.”
Green returned to northern California after his baseball career ended and earned a degree in physical education from San Francisco State. He worked as a counselor and coach at Berkeley High School before retiring in the 1990s.
The Red Sox honored him again on Jackie Robinson Day in 2009 and ’12, but he was unable to attend the ceremony in 2018 when his debut was recognized as a historic moment by the Red Sox Hall of Fame.
Upon his return to Fenway in ’97, he noticed that things had improved but still saw work to be done.
“Baseball still has its problems, and so does society,” Green said. “I don’t believe things are that much better in baseball or society. Hopefully, it will be shortly.”
Green is survived by his wife of 62 years, Marie; one of three brothers, Cornell Green, was a star safety for the Dallas Cowboys. He had one daughter, Heidi; his son, Jerry, died last year. He had two granddaughters and four great grandsons.
Every Tuesday and Thursday, Jay Hinson Sr. wakes his 16-year-old son, Jay Jr., and gets ready for work while his son prepares for school.
Depending on the day, Hinson will take his son to either Amateur Athletic Union basketball practice or to his personal trainer for strength and conditioning training. Work is never far from his mind as he makes sure he finishes his projects so he can be ready for his son. His schedule is tight.
“We are always on the move. But wherever he goes, I always travel with him,” said Hinson, who has had sole custody of his son since he was 6.
Helping fathers play a role in their children’s lives has emerged as a local and national concern over the years. The number of single-father households has increased from less than 300,000 in 1960, to over 2.6 million in 2011, according to a report by the Pew Research Center. Black fathers are the most likely to be the heads of single father households, edging out both white and Hispanic fathers, the report says.
As the parent with sole custody, Hinson is responsible for his son’s physical needs as well as making any legal decisions on his behalf. The younger Hinson spends time with his mother Mondays and Wednesdays and every other weekend at her residence in Greenfield.
Growing up without a two-parent household presents many challenges, some that the elder Hinson has personal experience with.
“We have a problem in our community,” Hinson said. “My parents were divorced. My father has always been in my life, but I have a lot of friends whose fathers weren’t in their lives.
“They grew up with single mothers. I always knew when I had a child, whether I was married or not married, there wasn’t going to be an instance of this generational situation of being a deadbeat black father.”
As an African American man raising a son in Milwaukee, Hinson makes sure his son understands how to navigate the roadblocks he may face in Milwaukee.
“Young black men have to be raised with a little more structure,” he said. “There has to be a little more discipline, just in the matter of what they expect, because a lot of times we have to work twice as hard to levy up to our counterparts.”
Hinson says fathering one child is a separate job in itself, and being a dad to multiple children might be even harder.
About 24 million children in America live without their biological father, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And there have been numerous local and national efforts to improve these statistics.
For example, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, also known as HUD, has a national initiative to keep biological fathers in the home. HUD has acknowledged what is called “the father factor,” which shows the negative effects of absent fathers.
Children without fathers in the home have a greater risk of poverty, are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, are more likely to drop out of high school and more likely to go to prison, according to HUD officials.
Nkozi Knight currently supports six children. Now in a relationship, Knight has spent time as a single black father raising children in Milwaukee.
“I was a single parent at one time, so I know what it’s like,” Knight said. “I see the value of having another person there to help you. When you have a son, a lot of times he is going to look for his mother.”
Knight learned how to parent through the ups and downs of supporting a family.
“I put their needs before my own, and I make sure they have everything they need in order to be successful,” Knight said. “It’s about growing up as a parent and realizing that your actions have consequences good or bad. I want to make sure that everything I do is for the betterment of my family and my children.”
In 2005, the City of Milwaukee created the Fatherhood Initiative to help fathers with the different challenges they may face.
Dennis Walton, former executive director of the Milwaukee Fatherhood Initiative, left the organization because he felt there was a stigma surrounding the poor quality of fatherhood in the black community.
“The Milwaukee Fatherhood Initiative has done a lot of great work,” Walton said. “In my capacity, I was able to help thousands of men. The challenges were that we were primarily focusing on black men. And that’s fine because a lot of black men have challenges with the issue of fatherhood. But as I started to go deeper, I realized that it wasn’t just black fathers.”
During his tenure as executive director, Walton helped Hispanic, Arab, Caucasian as well as African American men in their quest to be good fathers.
Walton said many men are working to overcome different barriers, including help with employment, child support, financial literacy, re-entering civilian life after a stint in prison and obtaining driver’s licenses.
He quickly realized that issues of fatherhood were not solely in the black community.
“It became unfair to stigmatize black men as being the only men having challenges as fathers,” Walton said.
“Our work is to help uplift men and improve their circumstances so they can become the strength they want and need to be for their families,” Walton says. “We decided to go beyond the local community, both nationally and internationally, to mobilize fathers, but to also restore communities through the restoration of fathers.”
Hinson routinely receives admiration for the time and effort he puts into raising his son, something that has always made him uncomfortable.
“The proof is in my engagement with my son,” he said. “I don’t do that for anyone to pat me on the back. People feel like they have to champion you. Like no! I am his father. What else should I be doing?”
Outside labels mean little to Hinson. He knows who he is.
“I don’t want people to have to say I’m a good dad. I’m just a Dad. Period.”
Pope Francis has deemed the first known black Roman Catholic priest in the United States to be “venerable,” positioning the former slave for possible sainthood.
The pontiff’s designation of the Rev. Augustine Tolton as venerable, meaning the church intensely scrutinized his life and recognizes it as one of “heroic virtue,” puts Tolton two steps away from possible canonization, the Diocese of Springfield explained in announcing the designation.
Born to a Missouri slave in 1854, Tolton, his mother and two siblings, with help from Union soldiers, eluded Confederate guns and escaped across the Mississippi River into Illinois in 1862, settling in Quincy, a river city about 110 miles (177 kilometers) northwest of St. Louis.
Baptized a Catholic, the faith of his family’s Missouri owners, Tolton studied for the priesthood in Rome because his race precluded his acceptance to a U.S. seminary.
“Father Tolton’s story, from slave to priest, is an incredible journey that shows how God has a plan for all of us,” Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of the Springfield Diocese said in a statement. “Father Tolton overcame the odds of slavery, prejudice and racism … (and) carried his crosses in life quietly and heroically.”
Work continues on Tolton’s history. If a miracle can be attributed to his ministry, the pope may declare him “blessed.” A second miracle would make him eligible for sainthood. The Springfield Diocese, which includes Quincy, and the Archdiocese of Chicago, where Tolton ministered to the poor before dying at 43 in 1897, have been working on his canonization since 2003.
Michael Patrick Murphy, director of Catholic Studies for Loyola University Chicago’s Department of Theology, said for Tolton to move from “Servant of God” in 2011 to “venerable” just eight years later indicates the seriousness of the church’s review. Reaching the “venerable” stage “kicks the machine into gear” as researchers search for miracles, a weighty and fact-reliant process, he said.
“Miracles by definition interrupt the laws of nature,” Murphy said. “But there are such strenuous, intellectual processes that are so normative- and so protocol-driven that there can’t be a retroactive, ‘Let’s make this happen’ type-of-thing.”
Tolton assumed he would work in Africa, but once ordained at age 31, he was sent back to Quincy. A biographer recounted Tolton’s conversation with another cleric shortly before departing in which he wondered whether America deserved being called by many the world’s most enlightened nation. “If America has not yet seen a black priest,” Tolton said, “it must see one now.”
He endured three years of racism in Quincy before “Good Father Gus” moved to Chicago. He is buried in Quincy.
Paprocki said the diocese is exploring establishing a shrine to Tolton, perhaps in a now-closed Quincy church.
“From slave to priest. That’s an amazing American story,” Murphy said. “He went from having lived amid the greatest sin in American culture to being a minister that would address that kind of moral crime, a fully scoped life. Prisoner to liberator.”
Dives into murky water, painstaking examinations of relics and technical data and rigorous peer review led historians and archaeologists to confirm last week that wreckage found in the Mobile River in 2018 was indeed the Clotilda, the last known ship to bring enslaved Africans to the United States.
An event heralding the discovery Thursday afternoon in the Mobile community of Africatown made clear that much work remains. The Alabama Historical Commission and others working on the project must decide how much can be salvaged, whether it can be brought ashore or if it should be left in place and protected.
Perhaps more important: How can the interest and publicity engendered by the discovery of the Clotilda be harnessed to foster economic and racial justice in the community?
Anderson Flen, a descendent of one of the Clotilda’s enslaved, believes the historic find can spark new discussions on those topics.
“Number one is talking and communicating honestly and transparently,” Flen said after a news conference on the effort to confirm the discovery. “The other thing is beginning to make some tangible things happen in this community.”
Another Clotilda survivor’s descendant, Darron Patterson, said Africatown residents “have to come together as a group to make sure we’re on one page, of one accord, to make sure this community survives.”
Thursday’s gathering at a community center drew roughly 300 people. Government officials taking part included U.S. Rep Bradly Byrne — who said he would work to help make Africatown “a place that people all over the world are going to want to come to” — and a representative from Sen. Doug Jones’ office. A statement celebrating the discovery from Gov. Kay Ivey was read by historic commission chairman Walter Givhan.
Officials credited Alabama journalist Ben Raines with renewing interest in locating the remains of the Clotilda. Raines had reported that he believed he had located the ship last year. Even though the ship he found turned out not to be the Clotilda, it led to the commission’s and other organizations’ efforts to locate the Clotilda’s wreckage.
A team of maritime archaeology experts conducted an assessment of a previously unsearched area of the Mobile River and historical research and an archaeological survey revealed up to two dozen 19th and 20th century vessels. One closely matched characteristics of the Clotilda and peer-reviewed findings led researchers to conclude that the wreckage is the Clotilda.
Officials have said they are working on a plan to preserve the site where the ship was located. Beyond that, the ship’s future is uncertain.
“This is the point where we pause,” Givhan told reporters. “We have to do our duty in protecting it. That’s job one right now.”
More experts will be brought in to determine the next move. “There are several options, obviously, as to whether you leave it in place, whether you bring up certain artifacts,” Givhan said.
James Delgado, a maritime archaeologist who helped lead the team that verified the wreck as the Clotilda, recently told The Associated Press that the ship’s remains are delicate but the potential for both research and inspiration are enormous.
Joycelyn Davis, a descendant of one of the Africans held captive aboard the ship, said she wants to somehow honor both the ship’s human cargo and the hard work of them and their descendants in forming Africatown .
Jerry Ward, an African American man who said he lives near Africatown, said he’d like to see the ship reconstructed as part of an effort to educate people about its history. “To know where you’re going, you’ve got to know where you come from,” Ward said.
The commission said organizations involved in the research and survey efforts include the Black Heritage Council, the National Geographic Society, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, the Slave Wrecks Project, Diving with a Purpose, SEARCH Inc. and the National Park Service.
From left, Reps. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, Leola Robinson Simpson, Annie McDaniel, Chandra Dillard, Rosalyn Henderson Myers, Patricia Henegan, Krystle Simmons and Wendy Brawley pose for a photo outside the House chamber at the Statehouse Wednesday, May 8, 2019 in Columbia, S.C. This is the first time in the state’s history that nine African American women are serving in the House of Representatives simultaneously. Not pictured is Rep. J. Anne Parks. (AP Photo/Christina Myers)
During the last week of this year’s legislative session in South Carolina, eight of the state’s nine African American women serving in the House gathered to record a historic moment.
This is the first time in the state’s history that nine African American women have served simultaneously in the House of Representatives, a moment shared among a sisterhood of women who say their primary mission is to serve and create positive change.
“I think we are uniquely situated to do that,” Rep. Wendy Brawley of Hopkins said of her eight African American female colleagues. “It’s the most that has ever served In the House at one time, and I think we can be and have been a formidable force.”
They wanted to take a photo near a portrait of Mary McLeod Bethune, the famous educator and stateswoman born a daughter of former slaves in Mayesville, South Carolina as a nod to how African American women have always had a significant impact on South Carolina’s history. And they also strive to have their own impact in the legislature.
Joining Brawley are Gilda Cobb-Hunter of Orangeburg, Chandra Dillard of Greenville, Rosalyn D. Henderson-Myers of Spartanburg, Patricia Henegan of Bennettsville, Annie E. McDaniel of Winnsboro, J. Anne Parks of Greenwood, Leola Robinson Simpson of Greenville, and Krystle Simmons of Ladson. They are women who serve all parts of the state, representing almost every industry including a magazine CEO, social worker, higher education administrators, attorney, retired educator and consultant, funeral director and engineer planner.
African American women have been serving in the South Carolina House for just 44 years. Juanita C.W. Goggins of York County was elected in 1975, serving for five years. Her achievements in improving education and public health paved the way for African American women to pick up the torch and serve behind her.
From left, Reps. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, Wendy Brawley and Krystle Simmons meet during recess inside the House chamber of the Statehouse in Columbia, S.C., on Tuesday, May 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Christina Myers)
“I don’t know if I digested how big this is,” Rep. Krystle Simmons said. “I just hope that little brown boys and girls, young girls, college age, I hope they look at me and say because of her, we can.”
Simmons just completed her first year in the legislature and the Ladson Democrat said she is not concerned about re-election but is instead focusing on inspiring young women and minorities to be civically engaged.
The mother of five has already left an impact on some lawmakers. When the issue of defunding Planned Parenthood came up, Simmons spoke of how she benefited from services other than abortion that the organization offers – such as parenting classes, which she attended after becoming a new mother.
After her remarks, some lawmakers approached her and expressed their support behind the scenes.
“There were so many that came up to me after that talk that said they wanted to be with me, but couldn’t,” Simmons said. “My problem is that you’re making an uneducated decision because you’re basing your decision off of hearsay.”
Simmons flipped her district, beating a Republican who has long held the seat.
One of the lawmakers made history of her own. Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter was given the honor in January of gaveling in the 123rd session of the South Carolina House as the longest serving member of the chamber. She is also the longest serving African American in the state’s history, elected in 1992 having spent years behind the scenes encouraging other women to run for office. The Orangeburg lawmaker said the House is not the same place it was when she started.
“I would like to see a return of actual debate of issues. I want to return to when we were more focused on substance than symbol,” Cobb-Hunter said. “I know that my value, my message is not for the 123 people sitting in that room.”
Recognizing the contributions of African Americans is important for the Orangeburg lawmaker who said she helped spearhead efforts to construct and dedicate the African American monument on the Statehouse grounds. That and the removal of the Confederate flag are vivid memories, both representing some progress in the state.
“Just the symbolism of that is just great,” Cobb-Hunter said of seeing an image of an empty pole laying on the Statehouse grounds in 2015. “That’s a vivid memory when we took the flag off the front lawn.”
Though some progress is evident in the position and power African Americans now hold in the Legislature, Brawley acknowledges there is still more work that needs to be done. The Hopkins lawmaker said the biggest challenge some of her colleagues face is navigating a system designed to help the people in power ignore legislation they don’t like with little accountability.
“Good ideas that can help advance the cause of South Carolina sit in a languishing committee because we are not willing to be nonpartisan enough to push good legislation,” Brawley said. “None of us are afraid to speak up and give voice to issues that will make a difference.”
And whether it was their first year or their 28th year in the Legislature, they are passionate about their service and the difference they can make.
“We have to fight. We’ve had to fight for everything we’ve got,” Brawley said. “I don’t see going to the General Assembly as lightening the load. It means the responsibility is probably going to be a little harder.”