Touring Texoma: Black & White

On this 4th of July, we have a story for you that's as American as apple pie and hot dogs.

This story's about baseball, but during a time here in Texoma when it was still very much a segregated game in a segregated society.

Continuing his Touring Texoma series, Darrell franklin's taking us back before the civil rights movement, when the color barrier was broken in Wichita Falls but in a different direction than you may think.

Just 2- years after the retirement of Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play Major League Baseball, a Texas Tech senior from Jacksboro made advancements for civil rights here at home.
Jerry Craft/Jack County Resident:  "I was the only white player in the West Texas Colored League."

Just as it was for Jackie Robinson, advancements for Jerry Craft and his teammates weren't always easy.

"I said, who are you guys?  Wichita Falls stars.  I said, I've never heard of you.  He said, oh, we've been around a good while, and we've got a really good ball club, but we need pitching."

When Jerry Craft was contacted by semi- pro baseball manager, Carl Sedberry in early summer, 1959, Sedberry knew what he was possibly getting.

Jerry, on the other hand, did not.
The opportunity to make 75- dollars a game, though, sure got his attention, and he showed up at Spudder Park in Wichita Falls that following Sunday to try out before joining the team.

"Fat was always the mouther, and he would just, oh say terrible things about the other team, and then he'd turn to me and say, now don't ever let us hear you say that white boy.  And, I'd say, do I look suicidal?"
The Wichita Falls Graham Stars was one of 6- other black semi- pro teams that made up the West Texas Colored League, but the Stars were often on the road, playing teams from all over outside their league.

They included white, hispanic and military teams.

"We weren't allowed to eat in a restaurant. We weren't allowed to use the rest rooms.  So, we'd pool our money and I'd go into a grocery store and get a bunch of lunch meat, and we'd eat in the car or on the road.  Going to the rest room, we'd either find a bridge or long country lane.

Clarence "Rabbit" Myles/Wichita Falls Resident:  "When Jerry walked in, people looked.  They said, well we can't feed him.  Can't feed him?  Mr. Sedberry went ape."

Jerry, and team mate, Clarence Myles, and the rest of the Stars saw racism from every direction over the two years they played together, but it was not always that way.

There were many good times.

Jerry:  "We couldn't get anybody to play us on 4th of July.  Remember?"  "Yes."  "Clarence really wanted to play, and he got hold of Windthorst, and they said, yeah they'd come down to play on the 4th of July with us if we'd cook for them and we'd furnish the beer.  Clarence said, well we don't have enough money for that, but we wanted to shoot fireworks with our kids.  So, when the ball game was over, we all ate together, and we were all shooting fireworks, the little kids were, and Clarence said, I've never seen black kids and white kids together, and we hadn't at that point.  He said, you know this integration thing might work.  I said, it's got to."
In fact, the very next 4th of July, Jerry says they all went to Windthorst, where you guessed it, sausage was cooked up for all.

"When we'd play Windthorst, and really enjoyed playing Windthorst, they always had a real competitive team.  The first time we played them in Windthorst, about half of them started leaving about the 4th inning.  I said, where are these guys going?   Clarence said, they're going to milk the cows.  I said, okay.  Here comes the substitutes.  I said, then what happens?  When they get through milking the cows, they'll come back and play.  I said, they can't do that.  He said Jerry, the cows have got to be milked."

Jerry and Clarence have so many wonderful memories of Spudder Park and the events that happened there throughout so many years.  Some, you might not even imagine.  Their stories, of course, always come back to baseball.

Jerry:  "I saw my first major league ball game here, between the Red Sox and the Giants.  I saw on the pitcher's mound, Elvis Presley, when I was a senior in high school, had his platform out there."

Jerry:  "It was an all grass infield, with the exception of the base paths.  The dugouts back in those days were all down in the ground."

Spudder Park's seen many changes since those days, when it was a minor league park affiliated with major league teams.

Those who made up the Wichita Falls Graham Stars witnessed many changes as well, since that color barrier was broken here.

A new book written by Jerry and Kathleen Sullivan will help ensure those changes brought about by generations of mistakes will not be forgotten.

Jerry: "I'd like every kid to have the opportunity to read about what it was like, because again Clarence, I don't think they know what it was like."

Clarence: "No, because my kids, they don't know what I went through, and what we faced."

That book for young readers that could absolutely help kids today have a better understanding is called "Pitching For The Stars, My Seasons Across the Color Line".

The book was adapted from the book for adults Jerry wrote entitled, "Our White Boy, The Memoir of the First White Athlete to Cross the Color Barrier in Texas Baseball".

The new book is available now at Barnes and Noble, and also at Amazon.

You can also find it as an e-Book.

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