Sunny Nash Documents Negro National League Baseball Player, Ernest McBride

Sunny Nash co-authored biography of Negro National League's Memphis Red Sox baseball player, Ernest McBride, and his fight against Jim Crow, minstrel shows and inequality in Long Beach, California.
Sunny Nash
Sunny Nash
Oct. 30, 2010 - PRLog -- Ernest McBride was a legend in Long Beach, California, from 1930 when he arrived from Arkansas until his death in 2007. “I was fortunate in that I was able to sit and talk with him over the course of a year to prepare the manuscript for his life story,” said Sunny Nash, author of Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s and among the international group of scholars to contribute to the African American National Biography by Harvard and Oxford. "And I captured Mr. McBride several times on tape talking about his life and his career as a professional baseball player and, later, as a semi-professional baseball organizer who played against Jackie Robinson," Nash said.

"My father was a man of many talents," McBride said. "He could build or fix anything. He also was a talented farmer and our family always harvested good crops and sold them for a profit." Unlike sharecroppers, the McBride family leased their land and enjoyed high standing in their Mississippi Delta community among their black and white neighbors until his father had to pack up the family and move away in the middle of the night. "We were not rich but my mother fed hungry white and black kids," McBride said. "She had to feed the white ones in secret because that was the way it was during those times."

McBride's family had to leave the Mississippi Delta where he was born after the altercation between his mother and the man named Baker, the owner of the land the McBride family leased. The owner rode up to the McBride home on his horse one hot afternoon and complained that Mrs. McBride was spending too much time sitting in the shade on the porch instead of working in the cotton field. When she had heard enough, she went for the ax to attack the man. Her husband took the ax from her in time and the owner rode away yelling that he would return with help to take care of them.

"We sat up all night in darkness and silence listening for the sounds of Baker's mob on horseback," McBride said. "My father said, 'if ever there is a time to die, this is the time to die. We'll all die tonight if we have to.'" McBride said they were all armed with rifles, shotguns and pistols, awaiting the mod that never showed up. Later, they found out that Baker's own poor reputation in the community prevented him from assembling a mob. But the McBride’s knew he would cause them trouble sooner or later. So, they left the Delta and went to North Little Rock, Arkansas. McBride said his mother wanted her children to get an education and there were no schools in the Mississippi Delta for black children. The closest town with schools for them was in North Little Rock, Arkansas, where McBride graduated from Scipio Jones High School with honors in mathematics in 1929.

In 1930, after graduating from high school, McBride witnessed the lynching and burning of a neighbor. "They dragged the man's body behind and brand-new 1927 Ford Roadster," McBride said. "A large crowd formed and followed the body as they dragged the man to Ninth and Gaines Streets and stopped in front of a black Baptist Church. There, some men unhooked the body in the middle of the street, while others broke into the church, hauled out pews and piled them on the body. Then they tore off the front door of the church and piled that on before pouring gasoline over the pile and setting it all on fire. Right there in the middle of the street they had a big ball around the fire dancing and singing and shouting hatefully as smoke, filled with the smell of burning human flesh, rose over Little Rock."

McBride vowed to leave the state and never return when he was recruited to play for the Memphis Red Sox in the Negro National League. He toured with the team for only one season because most of the time the team bus would not roll without the team pushing it. The team members only had one uniform each, which they washed between games in stream water en route to the next game and hung out the bus windows to dry. "And we weren't fed very well either," McBride said. "There were few eating places in the South that would serve Negroes back then, let alone a broken-down bus load of them," McBride said.

"I decided there wasn't enough money in professional baseball to keep me playing," McBride said. When he got to Long Beach, he organized the Long Beach Giants, a semi-professional baseball team, and even played against Jackie Robinson. "Jackie was playing for the Pasadena Dukes while he was in college at UCLA," McBride said. "That was the only game my Giants lost that season."

McBride found more to do in Long Beach than play baseball. He said there were signs in the buses and restaurants directing black people to enter and sit in the back. He said it was shocking to him that he had to go to a back door to order food, no differently than he had in the South. "And there were residential areas that were off limits to black people," he said. So, he began agitating for change, picketing Long Beach City Hall, grocery stores, schools, farms and institutions to change their serving and hiring practices. More than once, tenant farm owners chased McBride away with guns when he attempted to organize migrant farm workers. And his persistence paid dividends as African Americans were hired in positions they were once denied. McBride ushered in a new era in Long Beach, California, when he began overseeing the city's civil service examinations to make sure they were administered fairly. He organized unions, protested discrimination in housing and dismantled the tradition of Jim Crow minstrel shows in churches and schools.

In the United States into the mid-20th Century, working class white men blackened their faces with burned cork or grease paint, dressed up in outlandish costumes as they believed plantation slaves had dressed, performed skits and imitated black musical and dance forms, infusing them with savagery to mock bonded Africans. One of the most famous songs in American history--My Old Kentucky Home--began as a minstrel song. Minstrel shows, which had become world famous and respectable by the time the Civil War started, spawned the popular character, Jim Crow, a 19th-Century stereotype of enslaved African Americans. Designed to degrade black people, minstrel shows entertained many white audiences in the North and South. From the beginning of its history, the Jim Crow character personified racial oppression and segregation in the United States.

"After I organized the NAACP in Long Beach in 1940, I was in charge of the membership lists," McBride said. "One of the police sergeants here in Long Beach nagged me to show him the NAACP membership list because they thought we were all communists. I told him I would go outside, light the list with a match and burn it up before I would show it to him. I was not a communist but the FBI kept a file on me for many years. They finally sent the file to me when I got old. They thought I was through. But I'll never be through trying to right wrongs."

"Ernest McBride witnessed global modernization and change he never dreamed of when he was a child," Nash said. "Born during a period of American history, when the nation was bursting at the seams with racial and class struggle, McBride faced issues that molded his life and caused him to fight for change for all people."

Sunny Nash is the author of Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s, chosen by the Association of American University Presses as one of its essential books for understanding race relations in the United States, available at all major bookstores, domestic and international. To buy Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s by Sunny Nash, follow the link:
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Sunny Nash, author of Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's, is an award-winning writer, photographer, producer and public speaker. Nash's work appears in the African American National Biography by Harvard and Oxford; African American West, A Century of Short Stories; Reflections in Black, A History of Black Photography 1840 - Present; Ancestry Magazine; Companion to Southern Literature; Black Genesis: A Resource Book for African-American Genealogy; African American Foodways; Southwestern American Literature Journal and other anthologies. Nash is listed in references: The Source: a guidebook to American genealogy; Bibliographic Guide to Black Studies; Interdisciplinary Journal for Germanic Linguistics; Ebony Magazine; Southern Exposure; Hidden Sources: Family History in Unlikely Places; and others.
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