An Interview with Chandra Harrington

According to Chandra Harrington, the Museum of African American History has a unique opportunity to teach history, especially to young people. "Every ethnic group should know their history," she says and she hopes that a visit to the Museum will aid young people in their future.

In her sixteen years with the Museum, Ms. Harrington has worked in a variety of different capacities. Starting as a part time development associate, she has since contributed to different aspects of the Museum's mission, including preservation, operations, and visitor services. Now as the Senior Director of Collections and Interpretation, she works to create exhibits that connect the public to the vital history that is preserved both in the Museum and the surrounding neighborhood. The African Meeting House and the Abiel Smith School both played huge roles in Boston's 19th century black community. The Museum welcomes visitors to experience the places where prominent citizens like Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison made significant contributions to the abolitionist movement. "You can feel the spirits when you walk in," she says.

Recently, the Museum of African American History opened its newest exhibit, "The Color of Baseball in Boston" to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park. The National Park Service spoke to Ms. Harrington about the exhibit and the significance of baseball for African American history in Boston.

How did this exhibit come about and why do you think the public will appreciate it?

The anniversary of Fenway Park made this the perfect time to open this exhibit about Boston's black baseball history. A highlight of the exhibit is an item from the Museum's collection, the baseball uniform of Will "Cannonball" Jackman. Jackman was one of the best pitchers of his time, though little known to the general public. Research has revealed that African Americans were a part of organized baseball in New England since the 19th century. The exhibit describes their roles as players, managers, and team owners.

What was the role of baseball in the black community?

Boston never hosted a major Negro League team, but there were many amateur and semi-professional teams that played throughout the greater Boston area in neighborhood fields and city parks. The games provided a source of income for the players and the team owners as well as a gathering place for appreciative fans. After the games, fans would support nearby black-owned clubs and restaurants as they gathered for continued social engagement.

What parallels do you see between blacks in baseball and their work in the abolitionist movement?

A major parallel between blacks in baseball and the abolitionist movement is the powerful relationship between black and white allies. Right here in Boston, in 1945, City Councilor Isadore Muchnick threatened to take away Sunday training privileges if the Red Sox manager did not allow black players to tryout for the team. During the abolitionist movement, the black community worked with many white allies who contributed to the fight for equal rights, including William Lloyd Garrison and Charles Sumner.

How did black baseball players help enact change?

As a group they all flourished in their pursuit for playing excellent baseball and, by doing so, showed how blacks could achieve things in different areas of society.

Last updated: February 26, 2015

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