October 11, 2010 9:00:00 AM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
The Sam Hairston Celebration hits one out of the park with a "Meet the Players of the Negro Leagues" symposium Saturday, Oct. 16, 2 p.m. at the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library at 314 Seventh St. N.
Larry Lester, co-founder of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo., and baseball memorabilia collector Clarence Watkins of Birmingham, Ala., will join members of the Hairston family and other special guests at the event launching an exhibit, "Sam Hairston: His Baseball Legacy in Birmingham and the Major Leagues."
"This is something I''m just so excited about," said Glenn Lautzenhiser, co-organizer of the Oct. 13-16 Sam Hairston Celebration honoring the late Lowndes County native who was the first African-American signed to the Chicago White Sox. "We''re expecting at least six former Negro League players to be here to share their stories and to sign autographs."
The exhibit, open through Nov. 15, features baseball uniforms, trading cards, bats, photos, balls and histories of various players from both Negro League and Major League Baseball. Exhibit materials are from the collections of Watkins, Dan Creed and Charles Reed.
Watkins'' recent book, "Baseball in Birmingham," recounts the history of the game in that city; he will also include a PowerPoint presentation on the history of black baseball, the Hairston family and how both have strong ties to the Golden Triangle area.
Watkins said, "I was honored to be asked to be a part of the events in Columbus to recognize Sam Hairston and his place in baseball history. He and his descendants have been a part of professional baseball for almost 60 years. I hope the displays help tell some of their history and their connection to baseball in Birmingham."
Lester, a renowned researcher, is also the author of several works chronicling Negro League history.
"This event just keeps growing bigger," said Lautzenhiser, who learned earlier this week that nationally-known artist and sculptor Ron McDowell will also attend the library event and make a presentation to the Hairston family.
McDowell is known for, among other works, "The Salute to the Foot Soldiers," which sits across from the National Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham.
Following the symposium, a Mississippi Department of Archives and History historic marker will be unveiled at the site of the former Queen City Hotel, at Seventh Avenue and 15th Street North. This will be the second marker dedication of the Sam Hairston Celebration.
Baseball and blues
The day before, Oct. 15, at 4 p.m. an MDAH historic marker will be dedicated at the site of a new baseball field in Hairston''s childhood community of Plum Grove. The project to develop the field has been helped in large part by a donation of $15,000 from Weyerhaeuser.
The dedication at 54 Minnie Vaughn Road will be followed by a free concert by blues and R&B artists Big Joe Shelton and Keith and Margie Brown. Free hot dog plates will be served. Lawn chairs and coolers are welcome.
To see the entire schedule of Sam Hairston Celebration events, go to www.columbus-ms.org, or contact the Columbus Cultural Heritage Foundation at 662-920-3533. All events are free, except for the Legends Concert Oct. 16 at the Riverwalk. The show featuring Big Ben Atkins and the Class of ''65, Percy Sledge and Bobby "Blue" Bland starts at 6:30. Tickets are $20 at the gate (or in advance at ticket locations listed at the web site above). A limited number of VIP tickets, with access to free food and beverage, musical artists and athletes, are being sold for $50, as long as they last. For additional information contact the Columbus Cultural Heritage Foundation at 800-920-3533.
For more information about the baseball exhibit at the library, contact archivist Mona Vance at 662-329-5304.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.