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Johnson, John Howard  

Luke Nichter

Negro National League commissioner, longtime Harlem community activist, and ordained Episcopalian minister was born in Richmond, Virginia, to John Wesley and Harriet Howard Johnson.

Although Johnson was known primarily for his role as the last president of the Negro National League (NNL), he actually had little baseball acumen. In fact his sport of choice was basketball, and as a student-athlete at Columbia University in the early 1920s, he was one of the best basketball players of his day.

After graduating with a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in Anthropology from Columbia College, Johnson studied at Union Theological and General Theological seminaries in Manhattan. Then in 1923 he became an ordained minister in the Episcopal Church, beginning a career of service in Harlem that spanned seven decades. In 1928 he founded St. Martin's Parish in Harlem and by the late 1940s had overseen the congregation s ...


Murray, Eddie  

Adam W. Green

baseball player, was born Eddie Clarence Murray in Los Angeles to Charles Murray, a rug company mechanic, and Carrie Murray. The eighth of twelve children, Eddie was raised in the poverty-stricken neighborhood of Watts, but was closely watched by his parents, who readily dispensed chores and discipline. Playing baseball in the backyard, he and his siblings used broomstick handles to hit tin foil balls and swerving Crisco can lids. Though he also played basketball at Locke High, Eddie was the star first baseman and pitcher on the diamond, where he played with the future Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith. Scoring admirably on a psychological exam given to amateur players, the results of the exam showed that he had “tremendous emotional control. He had a lot of drive, but it was masked by his emotional control,” according to former Orioles scout Dave Ritterpusch (Christensen The ...


Puckett, Kirby  

Adam W. Green

baseball player, was born and raised in the South Side of Chicago, Illinois, the youngest of nine children of William Puckett, a department store and postal worker, and Catherine Puckett, a homemaker. Growing up in the crime-ridden Robert Taylor Homes projects, Puckett taught himself baseball fundamentals at an early age, throwing sock balls at a chalk strike zone on building walls. As a third baseman at Calumet High, he lifted weights to compensate for his diminutive (five-foot, eight-inch) stature.

After receiving little collegiate attention his senior year, Puckett worked on a Ford assembly line following graduation in 1979 at the age of 19 Noticed by a college coach at a free agent tryout Puckett was offered a scholarship to Bradley University Though small and round the atypical body for a centerfielder let alone leading base stealer the speedy Puckett moved to center field and led the ...


Smith, Ozzie  

Adam W. Green

baseball player, was born Osborne Earl Smith in Mobile, Alabama, to Clovis Smith, a truck driver, and Marvella Smith, a homemaker. When Ozzie was six, his parents moved with their five children to the Watts section of Los Angeles. Smith took up baseball at a young age, and rarely went anywhere without a ball in his hands. Developing his hand-eye coordination by spending hours fielding a rubber ball thrown against his house, Smith eventually played shortstop at Locke High School, which he entered in the fall of 1969. His small frame kept him from being noticed by baseball scouts, many of whom were interested in Smith's teammate and future Hall-of-Famer Eddie Murray.

Graduating from high school in 1973 Smith enrolled that fall at California State Polytechnic University at San Luis Obispo on a government grant and made the baseball team as a walk on ...


Thompson, Frank P.  

Paul A. Frisch

hotel waiter, baseball entrepreneur, and social activist, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the youngest of the three children of Sarah Thompson. His father's name and occupation are not recorded.

In 1871 Thompson began his career as a hotel waiter at the Ocean House in Cape May, New Jersey. The last decades of the nineteenth century were a time of increasing de facto and legal racial segregation. Most black nonagricultural workers were engaged in unskilled labor, as they were excluded from more highly paid skilled occupations. The occupation of hotel waiter held a high level of prestige in the black community because such employment was relatively clean, safe, and steady, but more intangibly, because it offered access to a privileged stratum of white society that on occasion presented further opportunities for advancement. By 1878 Thompson had been promoted to head waiter. In October 1884 Thompson joined the Hotel Brotherhood ...