Talking to People. Telling Stories.

delmarva's own bw-03.png


For the last conversation I had during Black History Month in 2021, I was hoping to answer one question: Were there any Negro League teams on the Delmarva Peninsula?


(Listen to this episode of Delmarva's Own podcast wherever you get your podcasts, or by clicking here.)


When I began looking for information about Negro League baseball on the Eastern Shore, I first went to the Eastern Shore haven for historians - the Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture at Salisbury University. According to the SU website, the Nabb center's main goal is to "showcase the Shore’s rich history and culture." Just before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Nabb Center had offered a baseball exhibit. (The online version of this exhibit is still available here.) I'd seen it, so I contacted the Nabb Center to ask who might be best for us to speak to about Negro League baseball on Delmarva.


Their answer: Dr. Kirkland Hall.


I also contacted the Eastern Shore Baseball Hall of Fame. They also recommended I speak with Dr. Kirkland Hall. As if that wasn't enough, our former guest, Dr. Clara Small, an actual historian also told me Dr. Hall was the go-to authority for all things Delmarva baseball, including the Negro Leagues.


I called Dr. Hall.


To refer to Dr. Kirkland Hall a baseball historian might be a bit unfair to him. Strictly speaking, Dr. Hall is not a historian. That is, it's not his trained profession. He is a trained educator, specifically physical education. His interest in athletics grew out of his love and experience playing baseball on the Eastern Shore.


(I'd like to mention here that there is far more to Dr. Hall's expertise than baseball. His impact on his local community, the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and Maryland as a whole is significant. This is particularly true for matters of social justice. That isn't what this episode was about, but his impact is worth mentioning, even in passing.)


As I began to research the Negro Leagues I discovered that just like everything else when it comes to black history in America, the term “Negro Leagues” isn’t as cut and dry of a topic as I thought.


Before I did my research, I made the assumption that the Negro Leagues operated much like Major League Baseball, with a strong structure of Major Negro Leagues with a minor league system of some sort. But you know, on a smaller scale.


I was wrong.


It wasn’t as simple as that.



I first considered looking into the Negro Leagues for a podcast episode back in December 2020 when Major League Baseball finally ruled to include Negro League records with Major League records. According to the MLB website, here's why: “Telling the story of baseball in America in the first decades of the 20th Century while only using the names of stars like Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby and Joe DiMaggio is indeed only telling half the story. For while Major League Baseball powered on as America’s favorite sport through the turn-of-the-century, the Roaring 20s, the Great Depression and World War II, an equally talented and equally entertaining league – if not more so, in the eyes of some – was also thrilling fans in many of the same ballparks.

Black Americans have played the National Pastime since it first spread across the country like wildfire during the Civil War,”

Legends were quickly born and grown within Negro League competition. Stars like Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell, Martín Dihigo, Turkey Stearns, Judy Johnson, Oscar Charleston…”

When it comes to Negro League play on the Eastern Shore, it’s difficult to garner first-hand information about games.

Before I continue, I want to give credit where credit is due. Much of what you will read below was provided for me in an email from Mr. Marty Payne. Marty is on the board for the Eastern Shore Baseball Hall of Fame. He was a wealth of information, and I’m not going to even pretend that a lot of what I’m sharing with you isn’t word-for-word information he provided for me. So thank you, Mr. Payne.


Now, the first known newspaper account of black baseball on the shore is in 1875 with the Cambridge Odd-fellows v. Seaford.


The fact is, rural newspaper coverage of the Negro Leagues is scarce and brief, largely consisting of simple scores, providing no accounts of the game play, or even names of the players.


By the early 1900's every African American community, enclave, or district had their own team. They played mainly on Sundays and holidays. Baseball was a social event with picnics and parties after the double headers. From the standpoint of an official league that I might have been looking for when I began to look into the Negro Leagues, the Major Negro Leagues formed in the 1920’s with teams forming in Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York. These teams made extra money playing exhibitions in neighboring regions - including Delmarva.


One game in 1925 featured the Harrisburg Giants and the Baltimore Black Sox. Each team had legends on their roster with Harrisburg featuring Hall-of-Famer Oscar Charleston who was known as the black Ty Cobb. Baltimore featured Hall-of-Famer Jud Wilson who hit over .400 four times.


It’s been reported that a black Eastern Shore League formed in 1932. The Afro American Newspaper reports that Crisfield and Bellevue of teams in a black Eastern Shore League in 1925. There was an 8-team Bi State League in 1934 with two teams in Delaware.


The Tri County League was reported in 1936 encompassing the mid-shore, including the Bellevue All-stars, the Denton Tigers, teams from St. Michaels, Easton, and others. Other strong teams of the era included the Cambridge Orioles, Crisfield Giants and the Carmichael Speedboys.


From 1939 to 1941 Negro League exhibitions on the Eastern Shore become more frequent. There was no Negro League world series in 1939. After a game in Salisbury between the Baltimore Elite Giants and the Philadelphia Giants, the game scheduled for the next night in Federalsburg was billed as the unofficial Negro Leagues championship.


Among the National Hall of Fame players listed on the rosters of the Negro League teams that toured the Shore include Oscar Charleston, Jud Wilson, Roy Campanella, Biz Mackey, Leon Day, Monte Irvin, and Mule Suttles. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any newspaper coverage of game results, so we can only assume these players appeared at this time.


Though not listed in that group of players, there was another Hall of Fame player I want to mention. His name is Judy Johnson.





Judy Johnson was a third baseman inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1975. His plaque in Cooperstown reads:

“Considered the best third baseman of his day in Negro Leagues. Outstanding as a fielder and excellent clutch hitter who batted over .300 most of his career. Helped Hilldale team with three flags in a row, 1923-24-25. Also played for 1935 Champion Pittsburgh Crawfords.”


But, most important for our purposes, before he did all that...before he did anything really, in 1899, Judy Johnson was born in Snow Hill, MD, on the Delmarva Peninsula.


Remember when I said by the 1900’s every black community or enclave had their own team? Dr. Hall played on one of those community teams, the Oaksville Eagles.


Though Jackie Robinson officially broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball when he started for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, integration throughout the rest of the baseball leagues in the country occurred at different times, and was particularly slow on Delmarva. This was clear as I listened to Doctor Hall talk about his experience playing for the Eagles. Listen to the Delmarva's Own podcast episode wherever you get your podcasts or by clicking here.



Where was Harriet Tubman born?


Nobody knows.


Well, that's only partly true.


Harriet Tubman was the daughter of Benjamin (Ben) and Harriet (Rit) Ross. Ben was an enslaved person on the Thompson farm just outside Dorchester County, and archeologists are currently working the land on and around the location of the Thompson farm trying to get a more solid understanding of where Rit gave birth to Araminta, who would later be known as Harriet Tubman. It is largely believed Araminta was born in Ben's cabin. But one thing is for sure... Harriet Tubman's early years were spent in Dorchester County as an enslaved person under the ownership of Edward Brodress. Today, Dorchester County - Church Creek, Maryland specifically - is the location of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park.


I live about 50 minutes southeast of the park, and I take route 50 east to get there. I left early on the morning of my scheduled interview with Lawson Nwakudo, a guide at the park, because I didn't want to be late. I gave myself an extra hour just in case there was a traffic backup or other unplanned event that would cause my delay.


There wasn't. There rarely is in this part of the world.


Knowing it was unlikely I'd meet any delay, I planned for a detour - a scheduled stop - on the way to the museum. I wanted to see the Bucktown General Store. In learning about her, I'd come to believe there was no more pivotal moment in her life than the one that happened at the grocery store on Bucktown Road when Minty was 12 years young.


Terrible Aim and a Terrible Wound


She'd been sent to the store by the person she was working for that day. Her owner, Edward Brodess would often rent out Araminta and the other people he held enslaved. It's been said that Minty preferred the outdoor work rather than that of the household. This allowed for her to be out and about more. This was the case at the store on Bucktown road.

A 2-pound weight.
This is a 2-pound weight at the Bucktown General Store. It doesn't seem like much until you hold it and consider how it would feel if it hit you in the head.

As the story goes, upon arrival she found a an enslaved boy in the midst of a confrontation with another man. The boy had left his plantation without permission and his overseer had caught up and was engaged in a heated argument with him. When the boy tried to flee, the overseer demanded Minty help prevent him from escaping. She refused. At this point, the overseer picked up a 2-pound weight used to weigh produce and threw it at the boy. His aim was terrible, apparently, and the weight hit Minty in the head, cracking her skull and causing damage to her brain.


From this point on, Araminta (later Harriet) would suffer from seizures or would fall asleep at a moment's notice. In the his podcast episode with Delmarva's Own, Nwakudo explained it is widely believed by scientists and doctors that the damage to Minty's brain caused her to suffer from narcolepsy and epilepsy for the remainder of her life.



The Bucktown General Store where Harriet Tubman sustained a severe head injury as a child. The counter within the store is the same counter where "Minty" would have purchased goods.

To be sure, these challenges would have been difficult for anyone to overcome. Not only did Minty have to deal with the physical damage, she also dealt with the additional denigration of her owner who told her, as a young child, that she wasn't worth any more than a sixpence to him. He tried unsuccessfully to sell Araminta. Nobody wanted a little slave-girl with a brain injury who kept falling asleep on the job.


Eventually Araminta was able to work hard at the same physical jobs she'd had as a child. Further, she learned how to drive oxen and fell timber, all the time learning to adjust to her new episodes of seizures. Perhaps this is because while some looked at the seizures as physical oddities, Minty began to experience them as communications with God. She insisted it was during these times that she spoke with God and God spoke with her.


We know that Minty eventually married a man with the last name Tubman. She then took her mother's name, Harriet, and became Harriet Tubman.


One might wonder what would have become of Harriet if she'd not suffered a brain injury as a child. Perhaps she would have done everything she did even without the injury.


Much has been made about Tubman's work as a conductor on the underground railroad, and rightly so. She personally guided over 70 souls to freedom as a conductor. Her work continued during the Civil War when "General" Tubman guided over 700 enslaved people to freedom as a part of an operation during the Civil War.


Nwakudo and I focused on the life of Tubman before her escape. It seemed appropriate for a podcast about Delmarva.


You can listen this episode here, or wherever you listen to your podcasts.






Dr. Clara L. Small, Professor Emeritus, Salisbury University

February is Black History Month, and at Delmarva's Own we're going to dedicate all three episodes this month to our black brothers and sisters, beginning with this one. Then, we're going to commit to continue to include them as part of the stories we tell moving forward as well.

Because the story of Black History formed the American story.


We cannot separate the history of our nation from the history of our black brothers and sisters, and I’d argue there is nowhere in the United States with a more meaningful impact on the story of Black Americans than there is right here on Delmarva.


This week we are joined by Dr. Clara Small to help us begin to dig in to the vast treasure-trove of history available to us. Who is Dr. Clara L. Small? She's a local historian who has dedicated her life to telling the story of black Americans from Delmarva. Professor Emeritus at Salisbury University, Hall spent 36 years teaching history in courses including World Civilizations, Civil Rights in American Society, African American History and related topics. It might be argued that she is the region's foremost scholar on the history of Black America on the Delmarva Peninsula.


Dr. Small has authored or co-authored 7 books, with her 8th due out before the leaves bud out on the trees this spring. Titles include:

  • Reality Check: Brief Biographies of African-Americans on Delmarva

  • Compass Points: Profiles & Biographies of African Americans from the Delmarva Peninsula, Volumes 1,2, & 3 [Publication Forthcoming]

Co-Authored:

  • Men of Color: To Arms! Manumitted Slaves and Free Blacks from the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland Who Served in the Civil War

  • They Wore Blue and Their Hearts Were Loyal: The United States Colored Troops of Dorchester County Maryland

Her work has garnered her acclaim and recognition resulting in numerous awards including:

  • University System of Maryland Regent’s Award for Public Service

  • Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore’s Frank H. Morris Humanitarian Award

  • The Harriet Tubman Lifetime Achievement Award

Dr. Small has also served as a member of the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture.


We're confident Dr. Small is the right guide as we journey into the past here on Delmarva.

While there are hundreds of people Dr. Small has written about in her books, in this episode we focus on two main figures and one group of Civil War Veterans of the Union Army.


To begin we discuss abolitionist Anna Marie Murray Douglas. If her last name sounds familiar, it should. She was the somewhat less famous wife of the voice of slavery, Frederick Douglas. As the Smithsonian Magazine suggests, Anna made Frederick's work possible in more ways than one. The daughter of manumitted slaves - that is, enslaved people who had been freed - Anna was a free black person herself. This meant she was able to work to make money and spend it as she wished. After meeting Frederick, she paid his way to freedom including spending money to secure the needed paperwork for a trip north, purchasing and tailoring a sailor's uniform to use as a disguise, and ultimately purchasing the goods they'd need to begin their married life together. In this podcast episode we discuss the Frederick's and Anna's life together and the impact Anna's support of Frederick had on his career.


We then move from the backbone of the abolition movement to the anthem of the Civil Right's movement of the 1950's and 60's. We Will Overcome, the song heard sung throughout the movement was adapted from a hymn written by Reverend Charles Tindley. Reverend Tindley was born In Berlin, Maryland. Tindley was self-taught, sometimes walking as many as 14 miles to acquire his reading materials and working as a church janitor to gain access to theology books. Podcast listeners will be able to hear two of his famous hymns including the aforementioned We Will Overcome, as well as Stand By Me, which was adapted into the 1960's hit of the same name by Ben E. King and the Drifters.


Finally, we spend a bit of time talking about the Unionville 18. This group of black Civil War Veterans fought for the Union army. In a twist of irony, Maryland sold slaves to the north to fight in the civil war at the cost of $300 each. You read that right.


Maryland slaves were sold to the north to fight for their freedom.


After the war these 18 previously enslaved veterans returned to the Eastern Shore and founded Unionville, Maryland, a town about 7 miles to the northwest of Easton. (Easton, for what it's worth, is the birthplace of Frederick Douglas. We like full circles on Delmarva's Own podcast.) According to Dr. Small, Unionville had no white residents until 2005.


That's an interesting fact to consider. A town established by 18 black Union Civil War veterans had no white residents almost a century and a half after its founding. Questions like this are difficult to address. But we must.


Dr. Small has forgotten more about the black history of Delmarva than I'll ever learn. She is an absolute wealth of knowledge. As impressive as her intellect is, what I appreciated her most is her ability to recognize the nuance involved in discussing difficult topics and questions. She doesn't stray away from the topics. On the contrary, she embraces the hard questions. Questions like, "Did the north buy slaves to fight in the war?" Or, "...is it true that blacks owned slaves too?"


Dr. Small encourages us to ask the difficult questions so we can come to a mutual understanding of the truth of the matter.

We at Delmarva's Own endeavor to do the same. We want to be able to ask the the difficult questions and be able to stand in tension with difficult answers. Because when it comes to discussing black history in the United States, particularly here on Delmarva, we need to be able to face the reality of our past.


Understanding where we come from will help us to move forward.


Dr. Small is available for lectures, interviews, and pretty much any other means of sharing her knowledge. She is available by email at CLSMALL@salisbury.edu. You can find her books at your local library as well as at Salt Water Media. (Just search for her name on the drop-down list of authors.)