The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of Negro Leagues Baseball. During its heyday, teams were often made up of ballplayers who previously played at historically black colleges and universities. Negro League teams were the only opportunities for African-American college ballplayers to continue playing the game. In his recently published book entitled “The Duke of 18th & Vine”, Black College Nines’ contributing writer Harold Michael Harvey references that relationship between the two entities and delves into the man who leads the Negro National Museum and his storytelling. Below is our Douglas Malan’s interview with Mr. Harvey.
Sometimes a writer just knows the right time when a book should develop out of thin air.
That was the case for Harold Michael Harvey, a Black College Nines contributor, in February when the Atlanta Braves invited him to participate in a celebration of the Negro Leagues centennial, which featured Negro Leagues Baseball Museum President Bob Kendrick and filmmaker Lauren Meyer, who created the documentary The Other Boys of Summer. Mr. Harvey was invited to speak about Historically Black Colleges and Universities and their role in Negro League baseball history.
“I’m soaking in this program,” Mr. Harvey recalls of the evening. “All of a sudden midway through it, I thought there’s a book in here.”
Wide-ranging topics include the formation of the Negro Leagues at the Paseo YMCA in Kansas City, the economic impact and innovations of the Negro Leagues, the role women played in the Negro Leagues, and much more.
“My favorite story would probably be about Cool Papa Bell,” Mr. Harvey said, referring to the tale that Bell was so fast he could flip a light switch, jump into bed and cover up before the light went out. “I almost fell out of my seat. I always wondered if that was true. And how in the world could a guy be that fast? You hear the stories about how fast he could circle the bases. That’s pretty fast. But to flip a light switch, jump into bed and cover up before the room became dark? That was a fascinating story I came away with.”
(Editor’s note: No spoilers here!)
While Mr. Harvey spoke about some of the earliest HBCU baseball games and the historical connection with the Negro Leagues, he came away learning new information about Negro League teams holding spring training on HBCU campuses and signing some of those college players as they broke camp.
He can understand the excitement of such possibilities for a ballplayer. In chasing his own baseball dreams, Mr. Harvey played baseball at Tuskegee Institute in the early 1970s before spending a few years looking for opportunities in professional baseball. When none arose, he enrolled in law school and became a prominent civil rights attorney in Atlanta.
He has always maintained his love for the game, and he has long appreciated the way Mr. Kendrick brings the Negro Leagues to life through his presentations.
“Bob is such an interesting storyteller, and I wanted to memorialize his storytelling in writing,” Mr. Harvey said. “He weaves American history through that time period and through these young men playing a kid’s game.”
The permanency of the written word is important to introduce yet-to-be-born readers to this rich history.
“I want this book to be available to open up a whole new world of understanding about baseball, that time period and the joy and good-natured spirit that those men went about playing in a segregated league in a segregated world,” he said. “It’s so inspiring.”
“The Duke of 18th & Vine” is available through Mr. Harvey’s website at www.haroldmichaelharvey.com.
Douglas Malan is a journalist and visual artist living in Connecticut. His works include short stories, poetry and books. Among the books Malan has authored includes the children’s book, Let’s Go To The Ballpark!