African American History Month - Week Two

African American History Month - Week Two
Posted on 02/09/2021
African American History Month - Week TwoAFRICAN AMERICANS IN THE WORLD OF SPORTS

Robert Abernathy, born in Columbia, TN in 1918, began playing sandlot games in Nashville with the N & T Tigers and other teams until 1940 when he moved to California to work in the defense industry during World War II. He played with semipro teams until he signed with the Kansas City Monarchs in 1945. He signed with the Indianapolis Clowns in 1946 before joining the New York Cubans in 1948. Known as a line-drive hitter, with respectable power, he was swift on the bases and had a strong arm. He was still in his prime when he was injured. After a triple, he scored on a ground ball to the pitcher, but when he tried to break his slide at the plate, he broke his leg instead. 
Robert Abernathy
He settled in Nashville, TN where he operated a dry-cleaning business. In 1994, Abernathy was interviewed on WDCN-TV (now NPT), where he discussed his experiences playing and traveling with the Negro League. Abernathy died in 1997 at age 90.

Johnnie Childress, a Columbia native, attended College Hill, and Carver-Smith Schools. A pitcher, Childress played with the Monsanto Red Sox, a local team sponsored by the Monsanto Corporation, before joining the Detroit Clowns. 

In 1958, Childress struck out 10 batters when the Clowns defeated the Memphis Red Sox, 8 to 5 at Griffith Stadium. A few weeks later, with six Major League scouts in the stands at Yankee Stadium watching a double-header with the Memphis Red Sox, “five times the 19-year-old star from Columbia, TN came up to bat. Three triples, a double, a single, and four runs batted in, plus the two he scored himself, were his contributions to the victory.”  Playing for Detroit in the Negro American League, one of the last Negro Leagues to survive, Childress’ Earned Run Average at 2.21 was the leagues’ best for the season, based on the statistics compiled by the Howe News Bureau. After his baseball career ended, Childress moved back to Columbia. He died in 1985 at age 48. 

The Negro Leagues started to decline when Jackie Robinson broke the color barriers and made his debut with the Dodgers in 1947. Many of the established stars in the Negro Leagues left to join the Major League organizations; the older established players, whom did not sign with Major League teams, left the country to play ball in Canada, Mexico or countries in Latin America; and the young players chose to play with Major League Clubs. The contracts of “up and coming” African-American players, such as Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, and Willie Mayes were sold to the Major League teams and the fans followed their favorite players; and owners of the Negro league teams sold their franchise.

Negro League baseball, an extremely important chapter in the history of baseball in America and a powerful force in the African-American community, ended in 1962.

These athletes and more are featured in the African American Heritage Society's 2021 History Calendar, "The World of Sports". Order form is available on Facebook: