Thomas Turner – Negro League


Tom pumps his own gas.


 From a box of yellowed clippings and black and white photos from the 1940’s, and family photos that go back to the 1950’s, this website was put together to fulfill a digital storytelling class assignment and as a 95th birthday present to Dad, Thomas Turner.  

As I write this, he is preparing to participate in the annual Gillette (corporate sponsor) and Major League Baseball (MLB) Civil Rights baseball game festivities May 14-17, 2010 at the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Willie Mays, Billie Jean King and Harry Belafonte will receive MLB Beacon Awards and former UN Ambassador Andrew Young is the keynote speaker at the awards luncheon.  Tom will participate, along with other former Negro Leaguers, on a symposium panel at the Freedom Center, attend the awards luncheon at the Duke Energy Center and an autograph session, with box seats for two games between the Reds and the Cardinals over the weekend.  Dad would describe this inclusive event – MLB and NLB players – and experience as being in “high cotton.”  

 My vision with the clippings was to show that the old ways of public recognition have not much changed; print has expanded to the Internet, but remains a primary point of communication media.  The photos are from my own 10-box set of family, vacation, and event photos and older family photos are from Dad’s collection.  

I remember when he bought an Argus camera and came home not with photos, but with these little slides we’d never seen before.  On summer nights, he’d set up the screen and projector in the back yard and run the extension cord into the kitchen.  All the kids in the neighborhood would gather round to see slides of themselves or family photos from a trip to the Grand Canyon on the big screen.  I’ve spent hours going through those boxes of slides to find just the right photo fto use in a family event or special occasion. 

 The other part of my vision was to organize the clippings and photos to constitute a set of storytelling dots that could be easily connected.  I’ve tread this terrain over several years and even though the territory is familiar, I get a different and more broad perspective each time I deal with it.  Another element to the story is the commercial value of being a former Negro League player.  Dad puts himself, his stories and his memories on display not for the money (I figure he about breaks even on what he spends on baseballs, photography, gas and other supplies required for his set ups), but to run a magic pencil over an invisible presence and bring it to life. 

 Dad is cantankerous and his hearing is more selective than ever.  He is easily irritated and quick to temper.  He drives too close to the mailboxes that sit on the country roads in and around Georgetown.  He breaks out into song for no reason at all. 

I’m planning to join Dad and Betty on the Civil Rights baseball weekend.  I’ll be driver, scribe and photographer.  I know we’ll have a good time!


One thought on “Thomas Turner – Negro League

  1. MP:me

    You’ve made a beautiful, careful, and complex portrait of your Dad, by default, beginning to tell that larger story (of race, class, place, family, and storytelling) that is your larger concern. I have a feeling that your website COULD have held more “academic” concerns outright, drawing the larger pictures of race and class and identity raised by your father’s (and your) personal story. Of course, the academic/daughter/anthropologist/storyteller needs to do this with sensitivity, and cultural awareness: but my bet is you can push yourself in this register as you continue your project, growing your community to learn, and learning from them their own degrees of sophistication, self-awareness and vernaculars for self-knowing self-expression.


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