Black History Month sheds new light on US past time

February 25, 2010

by Jessica Cassels

As baseball season begins, Thomas Aiello, a visiting assistant professor of history at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, spoke Feb. 18 at the Lincoln Parish Public Library on the cultural and historical significance of African-American baseball in North Louisiana during the Great Depression era.

The event shed light on America’s past time and how it united a racially divided town. The Lincoln Parish Public Library, Lambda-Rho Chapter of Phi Alpha Theta, History Honor Society, Inc. and the Louisiana Tech departments of history and journalism sponsored Aiello’s presentation.

Aiello said black people, as well as white people, in the South followed baseball, but it wasn’t until the 1930s that they were both recognized.

“The Monroe Monarchs fundamentally changed race relations in north Louisiana and [African-American] baseball,” Aiello said. “Monroe was known nationally for being the most racially violent town in America, and the 1932 baseball season changed that.”

Aiello said for three hours a few Saturdays a month, both blacks and whites came together in Casino Park to watch the Monarchs.

“On several occasions, the ropes that divided blacks and whites in Casino Park’s grandstand were removed so that more people could fit,” Aiello said. “White newspapers began using ‘we’ instead of ‘they’ and referring to the team as Monroe, instead of the Negro Monarchs. The Monroe Monarchs had become a state story.”

Aiello said the Monarchs only lasted one season as a major league team, but their effect lasted much longer.

“The Monroe Police [Department] stopped racial discourse so the team could succeed,” Aiello said. “It eliminated the violent crime and stimulated the economy. Baseball was the unifying element.”

David Anderson, assistant professor of history, said Aiello is one of the best young historians working in the field of Louisiana history today.

“He’s a great researcher and a prolific writer. As a native north Louisianan, he truly cares about documenting the region’s social history, particularly events and topics that other historians have neglected or ignored,” he said.
“He is almost single-handedly revising the history of 20th century north Louisiana, particularly what we thought we knew about African-American history.”

African-American men who played in a league in the 1930s were guest speakers at the event.

Curtis Mayfield, a Ruston native and owner of the former Ruston Black Sox, said he had a hard time compiling the team.

“When we first got together, the Black Sox didn’t have a name,” Mayfield said. “Our previous name had been the Eastend Boys, but that wouldn’t work. I had a hard time and it took me a long while to come up with a name, but I loved the Dodgers and I was black. So I came up with the Ruston Black Sox.”

The 90-year-old Mayfield said his team played for many years before Lincoln Parish was desegregated.

“We traveled all over Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas to play,” Mayfield said. “We traveled and we played. We had a good time; we were a good team.”

Robert Smith, a Ruston native, said he played for Mayfield on the Ruston Black Sox.
“I was one of the youngest players,” Smith said. “We traveled all over playing teams, and I enjoyed [every bit of] it.”

Smith said he wants future generations to see what the past was really like.

“We had some great athletes come through in this area, black and white,” Smith said. “I want my grandchildren and children to be able to see the roots in which it all happened.”