Macon event to celebrate ‘42,’ Negro Leagues

pramati@macon.comApril 10, 2013 

Unlike many Middle Georgians anticipating the premiere of the Jackie Robinson biopic “42,” Pat Person is eager to see the movie -- partly filmed in Macon -- for reasons other than looking for people and locations she recognizes.

Person’s father, the late Leonard Person, was one of five Macon Negro Leagues baseball players selected for a squad called the “Jackie Robinson All-Stars” that played in 1950.

Person has organized a celebration Thursday night at the Tubman African American Museum that not only recognizes the premiere of the movie but also the contributions of Negro League players who didn’t get to play in the majors.

“We’re saluting the ‘42’ movie because of the connection that it was filmed here,” Person said. “My interest is that my dad played in the Negro Leagues back in the day. He barnstormed with Jackie Robinson. I wanted to celebrate the Negro Leagues.”

Leonard Person was an infielder who played with the Macon Cardinals as part of the Georgia-Alabama Negro League. Person played ball with Robinson but also with the likes of Roy Campanella, Ernie Banks, Don Newcombe and Larry Doby.

Robinson, Campanella, Banks and Doby all are in the Baseball Hall of Fame, while Newcombe was a former MVP, Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Award winner with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Pat Person remembered her father telling her about a time when his team was on a bus during the barnstorming tour and stopped at a gas station in the South. When an attendant told the players they weren’t allowed to use the restroom while the bus was being filled with gas, Robinson ordered the players back onto the bus and said they would fill up somewhere else. Person said the attendant relented, allowing the team to use the restroom if they were quick.

“ ‘Don’t let anyone see you!’ ’’ the attendant told the team.

Robert Scott, the only living member of the five Macon players Robinson recruited, said he’s glad the movie will bring recognition to other Negro League players.

Scott, 82, who is from Macon but now lives in New Jersey, said Wednesday he admired Robinson a great deal.

“Part of it was he was a good baseball player, and he was also a good man for business,” Scott said. “He was an all-around good person. He was true to his word, and that was something that stuck with me as a young player.”

Scott, who was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates but didn’t report, said the Negro Leagues changed once Robinson integrated the sport. Most of the great players elected to follow Robinson to the majors, effectively turning the Negro Leagues from an organized league to a group of barnstorming teams.

“What Jackie did was something good for the black baseball players who followed him,” Scott said. “He made it so that the Negro Leagues players could follow him. That’s why he took all those hits.”

Person was scheduled to attend a special, invitation-only screening of the movie Wednesday night.

“I’m so excited,” she said. “I’ll probably see it three times this weekend. I’m very, very excited. (My father) respected Jackie Robinson so much.”

Thursday’s event at the Tubman, which begins at 6 p.m. and is free to the public, will feature photos and news stories of that era, as well as about 20 Negro League veterans.

James Hill, 73, an outfielder, first baseman and pitcher for the Macon Cardinals and the Macon Bombers, is excited not only to see the movie but also to see many of his Negro League teammates get recognition.

“I was one of the lucky kids. I was able to (join the team) right when I got out of high school,” he said.

“I look at the movie, and it’s the chance of a lifetime.”

Hill, who began his career in the Negro Leagues in 1957, said he learned a lot more than baseball during that time.

“You learned a lot about respect and how to be a man in sports,” he said.

Hill said he never met Robinson but saw him once from a distance. Hill was visiting his aunt in New York and saw Robinson walking across a parking lot.

“Between the fans and the police (surrounding Robinson), you couldn’t even get near him,” he said with a chuckle.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report.

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