KANSAS CITY -- You think you have a pretty good handle on our country's history. You know all about the Civil War and slavery and Jim Crow.
Then you spend some time wandering around inside the wonderful Negro Leagues Baseball Museum here, and some of it is really driven home.
One of the great travesties of recent years is that Buck O'Neill was not elected to the Hall of Fame before he passed in 2006. But this sweet man left a mammoth legacy, no small part of which is the museum here in the historic 18th & Vine District.
The moment that absolutely stopped me in my tracks came at a display featuring an article from the Wichita Beacon from June 21, 1925.
Entitled "Only Baseball Is on Tap at Island Park", it was a preview of that day's game between a Ku Klux Klan team and an African-American team.
Here are the first few paragraphs:
"Strangleholds, razors, horsewhips and other violent implements of argument will be barred at the baseball game at Island Park this afternoon when the baseball club of Wichita Klan No. 6 goes up against the Wichita Monrovians, Wichita's crack colored team.
"The colored boys are asking all their supporters to be on hand to watch the contest, which beside its peculiar attraction due to the wide difference of the two organizations, should be a well-played amateur contest. On the side of the colored boys is the fact that they have had a ball team here for several years, while the Klansmen are comparatively newly organized. But both are playing good ball.
"Umpires have been instructed to rule any player out of the game who tries to bat with a cross."
Any player who tries to bat with a cross? As noted in the display, the Wichita Monrovians defeated Klan No. 6 10-8.
While there are plenty of stark moments, the museum mostly is a celebration.
As one prominently displayed quote from Charlie Biot of the old New York Black Yankees reads, "Everybody got dressed to the nines to go to the ballgame, not like today, when people dress like they're going to rake leaves. Negro League games, especially the big ones, were THE event of the week."
The museum runs along a timeline from the late 1800s (the Klan was formed in Pulaski, Tenn., in 1864) through the beginning of the Negro Leagues around 1920, then through their heyday in the 1930s and 1940s until they declined after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. By 1950, the Negro Leagues were pretty much done.
There were some great players, as evidenced by part of a 1923 letter from then-MLB Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis to Negro Leagues pioneer Rube Foster, essentially urging Foster to take it easy in putting together his barnstorming teams because "when you beat our teams, it gives us a black eye."
There were some great characters, as evidenced by ol' Theodore Roosevelt "Double-Duty" Radcliffe of the Pittsburgh Crawfords, so nicknamed because he would pitch the first game of a doubleheader and catch the second.
Or, as the entertaining quote displayed in the museum from Double-Duty reads, "We used to play four in one day just about every Fourth of July. I'd pitch two and catch two. The way I made it was to sleep the 35 minutes between each game."
Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, as you'd expect, they're all here. There is a very cool interactive feature -- especially, I'd imagine, for descendents of the players and historians -- in which you can find information about any player who played in the Negro Leagues by typing his name.
Especially touching was a displayed quote toward the end of the tour, from Paul Binder ("fan, New York City"): "Did I feel uncomfortable when black fans descended on Ebbets Field, when Jackie Robinson came up? Let me put it this way: I felt uncomfortable in the first game and a little awkward in the second game. By the third game, we were all cheering loudly together and spilling soda on each other. By then, there weren't any black fans and white fans, just Dodger fans."
And, of course, the museum wouldn't be complete without Satchel Paige's Rules for the Good Life (and who doesn't need to review these periodically):
1. Avoid fried meats, which angry up the blood.
2. If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
3. Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.
4. Go very lightly on vices such as carrying on in society. The social ramble ain't restful.
5. Avoid running at all times.
6. Don't look back, something may be gaining.
Likes: Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium remains one of the most beautiful places in the game. Even re-done, it's great. ... Arthur Bryant's barbecue. In order: Burnt ends, pulled pork. ... Gates barbecue. In order: Ribs, beef, ham. ... The 40th anniversary of Marvin Gaye's What's Going On. ... Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA, released 27 years ago Saturday.
Dislikes: Maybe running five miles on a 90-degree morning Monday during which an "Ozone Alert" was posted here wasn't the best idea.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"There's too many of you crying
"Brother, brother, brother
"There's far too many of you dying
"You know we've got to find a way
"To bring some lovin' here today, yeah
"We don't need to escalate
"You see, war is not the answer
"For only love can conquer hate
"You know we've got to find a way
"To bring some lovin' here today
-- Marvin Gaye, What's Going On