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"Bright Lights Black Stars" subject of latest Freedom Museum online series

Black Canadian baseball Hall of Famers Manny McIntyre and Ted Alexander

The most recent online series presented by the Amherstburg Freedom Museum had a sports theme to it.

“Bright Lights, Black Stars: Negro League Players in Canada’s Oldest Baseball League” was hosted by the museum last Thursday afternoon. Author and former baseball player Paul Allen wrote the new book and made the presentation on it, noting the many Negro League players that passed through the Intercounty Baseball League (IBL). He pointed out the contributions of those players as well as others he played with during the years.

Allen also highlighted the many other coaches and players who made a difference in his life and career as well as the IBL.

“I was fortunate enough to have played in Chatham with some really great players,” said Allen, pointing out Baseball Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins was among them.

Allen pointed out coaches he had over the years, including Jack Fairs, Joe Bechard, Willy Casanova and Bruno Casanova, the latter going on to be a long-time arena manager in Amherstburg who now has the roadway heading into the Libro Centre named in his honour.

Part of Allen’s hour-long presentation featured a history of baseball in Canada, noting this country’s history dates back centuries. He pointed out Bud Fowler is believed to be the first Black player in professional baseball, having played as far back as 1878. Fowler once pitched a two-hit 3-0 shutout win over the London Tecumsehs.

Among the Black players highlighted in Allen’s presentation was Harry Coursey. Allen believed Coursey was the first Black player to participate in the Intercounty Baseball League. That took place in 1926. He was also credited as being a terrific sprinter that should have qualified for the Olympics.

“He actually ran faster than two Canadian sprinters that were picked to go to the Olympics,” said Allen.

The “Glory Years” of the IBL were 1948-58, stated Allen, as there were 45 Negro League players, 45 minor pro players and 20 former Major League Baseball players to come through the league at that time.

Other baseball players highlighted included Earl “Flat” Chase, Jeff Shelton, Goody Rosen, Barney Brown, Leonard Pigg, Bob Griffith, Stanley Glen, Sherwood Brewer and Max Manning. 

Wilmer Fields was profiled, with Allen stating Fields was the most valuable player of every team he played on. Shanty Clifford was also highlighted, as was Fred Thomas, an outstanding all-around athlete from the Windsor area. The contributions of Jimmy Wilkes and Bob Thurman were also pointed out.

Allen also stated legendary Hank Aaron almost signed with the IBL when he was a young player. Larry Cunningham is believed to be the last Negro League player to come to compete in the IBL.

There were more players featured as well, as Allen went through a list of players he knew and/or played with that were stars in the Intercounty League.

The entire presentation is available on the Amherstburg Freedom Museum’s YouTube and Facebook pages. 

"Bright Lights Black Stars" subject of latest Freedom Museum online series

By Ron Giofu


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