Hey Creative Friend, pull up a chair and grab yourself a cup of your favorite beverage and let me tell you the story behind my most recent piece – Hats don’t fit.
I was getting ready to go out with my teenage daughter and I was taking a bit longer to get dressed than she expected. So, she poked her head through the door and asked what was holding me up. Then I said to her, I can’t find a hat to put on. I’ve tried so many and none seems to work. Then she said to me, matter of fact-ly, “Hats don’t fit our hair, mom”. At that point I became the child and she became my mom teaching me a life lesson that she expected me to have already figured out.
It was a brief interaction on that particular topic but the essence of what she said stayed with me for a long while. It peeked my curiosity. What do you do if you had to wear a baseball cap for work? How do you stuff this type of hair into the cap? As a result, I became curious about the first Black female baseball players. Who were they and what was their lives like?
That’s when I started reading about these three amazing women – Toni Stone; Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, and Connie Morgan. They were the first African American women professional baseball players. In some way, I shouldn’t be surprised at the hoops they had to go through to become the Trail Blazers that they were. Especially, given the time period within which they lived and the history, I should have expected this.
However, I still get shocked at some of these stories.
At the time, the all-American Girls Professional Baseball League, just like Major League Baseball, did not allow Black players.The all female team didn’t even allow Black women to try out. Mamie Johnson tells the story of how as a teenager, she saw an advertisement for women baseball players. She and her friend traveled all the way to the the town where the tryouts were being had. When they got there, they were not given a chance to try out. They looked at them and then proceeded to ignore them. They were just teenagers at the time.
The signing of Hank Aaron (who recently passed away), to the Boston Braves in 1951, gave Toni Stone her opportunity. It left an opening in the Indianapolis Clowns, a team of all Black male baseball players. Desperate for players, the team signed on Toni Stone as a novelty to increase attendance at their games. The three women -Toni Stone; Mamie Johnson, and Connie Morgan all ended up playing on the Indianapolis Clowns team with the men because they really didn’t have any other options.
All that didn’t surprise me that much especially when you put it in context of the period. What did surprise me though, are some of the conditions under which these women played. For example, when traveling with the team, Toni Stone would end up sleeping in brothels because hotel managers refused to give her a room in the same hotel as her male teammates. So, they’ll show her the local brothels, and ask her to go there for accommodation. Can you imagine that?
These women endured a lot. Hats off to them.
Eventually, they moved on to forge different career paths for themselves. One went to business school and worked with AFL-CIO, the other became a nurse, and the third became a personal caregiver.
I dedicate this piece – “Hats Don’t Fit” to these amazing women who broke through the field of professional baseball and left their marks in history for all of us who come after them to learn from. And to all of you doing what nobody expected you to be able to accomplish, this is for you too. Keep holding your head high. Don’t contort yourself to fit into a box. Nor should you let anyone put you in one. Live free. Chart your own path.
I enjoyed working on this piece a lot. It was fun and playful. I was able to push the limits of what I can do with threads. Curiosity always leads me down interesting paths. Creating this piece was traveling down one of those paths. I gave myself permission to play a lot with this piece. Maybe, because it reminds me of my daughter, it became easier not to take myself too seriously. And that always helps to get the creative juices flowing.
The first piece in 2021 is done. I can’t wait to see what the rest of 2021 will bring. I’m so ready. I hope you enjoyed seeing the photos and reading the story.
Take care friend.
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Part of the series: The Story Behind the Art
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Also published on Medium.