Joshua Mabry, Campus Carrier sports editor
Larry Lester, the co-founder of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, spoke about the importance of black baseball at the Rome Area History Center and Berry on Feb. 27. His speeches are in honor of the 100-year anniversary of the founding of the Negro League and Black History Month.
At the luncheon at the Rome Area History Center, Lester was joined by Butch Haynes, local Roman and former player for the Lindale Dragons and the Indianpolis Clowns.
The 1920s especially made a significant impact on black baseball, according to Lester. He said that this was the golden age of sports and a decade of economic prosperity.
“The 20s were the birth of many black venues of baseball with perhaps the third largest business in the country behind black insurance companies and black hair product companies,” Lester said.
Lester said that, despite the sport being born out of segregation, black baseball is highly important.
“Negro league baseball was the engine that drove a lot of businesses in the black community,” Lester said. “There was black baseball and there was white baseball.”
Lester said that the difficult, segregated institution that black baseball was born out of was part of the larger segregated America. He said that owners of baseball teams would hire white men with fake legs or other disabilities before hiring an African American man.
In addition to speaking about black baseball, its history and his work with it, Lester talked about his museum. He said that the museum, which was incorporated in 1990 and opened to the public in 1995, started as a grassroots organization.
“A classmate called me one day and asked me if I wanted to start a jazz and baseball museum,” Lester said. “He said he would handle the jazz component if I could handle the baseball component of this museum to be located in historic 18th and Vine (in Kansas City).”
After this, Lester and his classmate started writing their business plan and raising money to prepare for the opening of the museum.
The Kansas City city council passed $20 million in bond money, but this bond was only to be used for the physical building, according to Lester. This left Lester and his classmate having to raise money for operational costs and expenses.
Prior to the museum’s 1995 opening, Lester said that he and his classmate only had a one room office in the historic Lincoln Building in Kansas City.
Lester said that even though it was a challenge to open the museum, it finally opened and it has seen much success.
“Today, it’s doing well,” Lester said. “It just got a $1 million donation from Major League Baseball to fund some programming.”
Major League Baseball (MLB) has a youth academy with a new field next door to the museum. The point of the academy is to try to create a greater baseball interest in African American communities.
Junior Noah Syverson, who attended the speech at Berry enjoyed Lester’s speech, said that Lester has extensive baseball knowledge and is a remarkable speaker as well.
“Getting to hear him talk about the history of the Negro League was one of the highlights of my semester,” Syverson said.
Senior Genesis Leggett said that she also enjoyed the event.
“It was interesting to learn about the history of the Negro Leagues right here in the local community,” Leggett said.