“My Father Couldn’t Swim” and Other Highlights from the Pride and Passion Annual Conference Program

"My father couldn’t swim, but he walked out onto the ice when we wanted to skate to test it for us kids,” Sharon Robinson said as she concluded her portion of the PPO’s program, “Pride and Passion: The African-American Baseball Experience.” Her father, Jackie Robinson, is undoubtedly one of the most influential names in American history, and his courage to step out into the uncharted racial waters, not knowing if he’d sink or swim, changed history forever. I think most people who attended the “Pride and Passion: The African American Baseball Experience” event at the 2009 ALA Annual Conference were here to see Kadir Nelson, Sharon Robinson, and Lawrence Hogan speak on their experience of documenting and sharing their love of Negro League Baseball. However, I think we all came away with much, much more. Lawrence Hogan summed it up well: “There are traces of African-American baseball players in almost every town where baseball was played.” He went on to draw connections between Negro League Baseball and the broader tapestry of American history.

As two of the United States’ oldest institutions, ALA and baseball are a likely pair. For the fourth year in a row, ALA Annual Conference has sponsored an event on baseball, and this one was met with enthusiasm and a full house. Luckily, those of us attending the conference are able to view the “Pride and Passion” exhibit on the first floor of McCormick Conference Center West, but listening to the panel of speakers was the icing on the cake for baseball and book enthusiasts alike. Highlights of the session included snippets from baseball scholar Dr. Lawrence Hogan’s tomb of research on the Negro League, Sharon Robinson sharing family moments as the daughter of Jackie Robinson, Kadir Nelson’s sketches and painstaking research for his Coretta Scott Award winning book, We Are the Ship, and the closing from our own Susan Brandehoff, who let us know that more than three-quarters of a million people are expected to view the traveling exhibit “Pride and Passion” during the next five years.

Dr. Hogan talked of being “present at the time of creation,” in history, and the session room resonated with the impact this project has had from inception to its fulfillment as a successful program to educate the public on Negro League Baseball. The audience really got a feeling of being part of the project as Kadir Nelson recounted his process for creating illustrations for We Are the Ship and shared home photos of himself modeling uniforms and baseball poses for the illustrations (any Nelson fans know this was one of the biggest highlights of the program).

As an octogenarian, Negro League player and baseball hall-of-famer Raymond Emmett Dandridge spoke of being thankful for the moment to “stop and smell the roses” as Negro League Baseball was finally recognized by the Baseball Hall of Fame. “But why did it take so long?” asked Dr. Hogan today. At this moment, we’re finally catching up with lost, stolen, or strayed history with “Pride and Passion.”