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New exhibit honors Negro Leagues

New exhibit honors Negro Leagues

LOS ANGELES -- As Black History Month continues, exhibits have sprung up around the country highlighting the contributions that such revered people as Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr. and Thurgood Marshall made to American culture.

The Da Vinci Gallery at Los Angeles City College, in conjunction with the Baseball Reliquary, has created "Winter Ball," a display of artwork, photographs and artifacts exploring aspects of the Negro Leagues and African-American baseball history that will run through March 4.

"The focus is on the Negro Leagues and baseball, and I'm a big fan of baseball," said Rosalind K. Goddard, a member of the reference library faculty at the college, who coordinated the display with the the reliquary's director, Terry Cannon. "Baseball figured very prominently -- as did boxing -- in the lives of African-Americans during the early part of the 1900s in this country. There was great anticipation because it was a sport that didn't require an awful lot of money, and it enabled African-Americans to have teams that they could root for, because these teams were filled with very talented men who, because of segregation and racism, were not allowed to play in the Major Leagues.

"The exhibition signifies that period of time and consists of paintings who have been done by artists like Curtis Wright. There are also some rather controversial artifacts from a part of the Negro Leagues, of teams whose attire kind of mimicked the racist perspective that whites in segregated America had about blacks," Goddard added, referring to a barnstorming team called the Zulu Cannibal Giants. "These teams dressed in grass skirts and kind of mimicked what white people felt blacks to be -- that was primitive -- but that was part of the Negro League experience as well."

The displays highlight many artifacts from the league, including jerseys, photos and paintings by both Wright and Southern California artist Ben Sakoguchi, who created an oil painting of fellow Southern Californian Jackie Robinson depicting three of the four sports in which he excelled: basketball at Pasadena City College, football at UCLA and baseball, as the trailblazing member of the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking baseball's color barrier in 1947.

The irony, of course, is that because of Robinson -- who played one season for the Negro League's Kansas City Monarchs in 1945 -- and Larry Doby, the first African-American in the American League, the Negro League would soon be raided of its best players by the Major Leagues and would cease to exist by the end of the 1950s.

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The exhibit also highlights a mixture of African-American players, including Josh Gibson, the power-hitting catcher referred to as the "Black Babe Ruth," and Curt Flood, the Cardinals' famed center fielder, who took on the baseball establishment, challenging the reserve clause, which bound a player to one team, in the late 1960s. Though it wasn't successful in court, Flood's case helped set the stage for modern-day free agency.

"I hope students today, who are very much tied to now -- the Web, iPods and podcasts and so forth -- [get] a sense that black people, during this early part of history, were consummate athletes," said Goddard. "They were also businesspeople, and there was a real zeal and a positive response to these teams."

Library hours are Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 7:45 p.m., Friday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. For additional information, call the library at 323-953-4000, ext. 2400, or the Baseball Reliquary at 626-791-7647.

Ben Platt is a national correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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