“One Book, One Campus” Program Honors Satchel Paige

Frederick Ellis Dashiell Jr. | February 09, 2010

As part of its celebration of Black History Month, UMass Boston is once again using the power of the printed word. “One Book, One Campus,” based on Chicago's “One Book, One Chicago” program, highlights the achievement of an individual so that the entire campus becomes aware of how that person helped change views on African Americans in this country.

“We thought it would be a good idea to have the whole campus read the same book,” said Mark Preble, assistant vice chancellor for human resources.

In the past, authors such as Toni Morrison have been honored with the “One Book, One Campus” program. This year, the topic, not the author, is an African American: legendary pitcher Satchel Paige, the subject of a new book, Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend, by longtime Boston Globe reporter Larry Tye.

Barbara Lewis, director of the William Monroe Trotter Institute for the Study of Black Culture, played a lead role in selecting this year's book. She knew of Tye, who had written a book about the black Pullman Porters, Rising From the Rails, and she was also aware that Tye had recently completed his book about Paige. Working with Preble, several hundred copies of the book were acquired and dispersed to faculty and staff, and also placed in the library for students to read.

But the group reading of the Paige biography is just the starting point of a larger discussion about the history of baseball in Boston and the Negro Leagues in general, in which Paige played for most of his career. That part of baseball history is largely unknown in Boston, despite the city's passion for baseball. The question then became, according to Preble, “What can we do to compliment something on the Negro Leagues?”

Preble contacted Rusty Sullivan and Dick Johnson, the director and curator, respectively, of The Sports Museum, a 33-year-old institution now located in the TD Garden. After hearing what UMass Boston wanted to do, Sullivan and Johnson put together a traveling exhibit, showing Boston's history with the Negro Leagues, which would debut at UMass Boston.

Tye, a native of the Boston area, remembers going to games with his father and watching many great pitchers. Yet his father, like many of his generation, would always reserve praise. “My father would say 'He's good, but not as good as Satchel Paige,'” said Tye.

His father's words would stay with Tye when he began researching Paige and realized that Paige's performance on the field was just part of his story.

“Peoples' knowledge of Paige was only an inch deep,” said Tye. For the book, Tye relied heavily on first-hand accounts from people who played with or against Paige, conducting over 200 interviews with former Negro League players as well as friends and family, and creating a portrait that covers far more ground than Paige's exploits on the field.

“I think it's wonderful that UMass Boston is highlighting Paige's contributions during Black History Month,” said Tye. Since its publication, Tye has been touring the country, talking to universities about the book and about Paige, and is excited about speaking at UMass Boston. “I like the idea of talking about the book closer to home,” he said.

Assistant Vice Chancellor Preble shares Tye's excitement.

“People are interested in the subject and willing to take it on from an academic perspective,” said Preble, both of Satchel Paige and the history of the Negro Leagues. With the support of the Chancellor's office, Preble and his staff have been promoting the event heavily since early February. Flyers and posters can be found in many buildings on campus and are all over the Campus Center, where plenty of students have already taken notice.

“I think [the events] are pretty cool,” said Reynolds Graves, a junior at UMass Boston. “People know a lot about the Negro League but not a lot about the players like Satchel Paige,” he said. To Graves' point, UMass Boston is setting up a host of events during the last week of February. These events include the Sports Museum exhibit opening on Monday, a panel discussion on the Negro Leagues on Tuesday and a lecture by Tye on Wednesday, all of which are open to UMass Boston faculty, students, and staff as well as the general public.

The Sports Museum's travelling exhibit of Negro League artifacts and memorabilia is on display February 22-26 in the Campus Center on the first floor terrace. On Tuesday, February 23, from 2 to 4 p.m., panelists Bijon Bayne, Jim Hirsch, and Sports Museum curator Richard Johnson will discuss the Negro Leagues and black baseball in Boston, and Hirsch will be available to sign copies of his new book, Willie Mays: The Life, the Legend. Satchel author Larry Tye will give a lecture about his book on Wednesday, February 24, from 2 to 4 p.m. Both events will be in the Campus Center Ballroom.

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