Preserving black history, culture in Galesville

The Hot Sox, a local African-American baseball team, played on field at center of renewal effort

February 18, 2007|By Nia-Malika Henderson | Nia-Malika Henderson,sun reporter

In their heyday, the Galesville Hot Sox drew hundreds of fans to lively baseball games on lazy Sunday afternoons.

The all-black team, the heart of South County's African-American community, played on a grassy field purchased in the late 1800s by a former slave named Henry Wilson.

It has been 10 years since the team, which integrated in the 1960s, last suited up. And the 26-acre lot where it once played against Negro Leagues greats has been up for sale since the fall.

But it just might be time to get out the bats again.

A coalition of community members and county officials are in talks to preserve the baseball lot and Wilson's mid-1860s farmhouse, which is adjacent to the field. Its next meeting is Tuesday.

Vincent O. Leggett of the Blacks of the Chesapeake Foundation is chairing the working committee. He envisions an updated ballfield, possibly maintained by the county, and a restored farmhouse and tobacco barn that would showcase black workaday life, which was tied to the land and the bay.

The goal is to develop an educational center for the interpretation of black history in Southern Maryland, according to an initial proposal.

"We want to preserve the rich legacy and heritage that has surrounded that property for almost 150 years," Leggett said. "This is just a great opportunity for our entire community to rally around a project of this magnitude. And it really is going to take the entire community."

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Galesville Community Association and Galesville Historical Society are among the groups involved in preservation efforts.

Descendants of Wilson's family have also agreed to help plan the facility and to entertain all offers for the purchase of their land, for which they have already received offers, Leggett said.

The county intends to appraise the land within three to five months.

There is no estimate on how much such a project would cost, but county, state and federal funds would be needed, Leggett said.

In the meantime, the farmhouse has fallen into disrepair, and the committee is seeking funds to stabilize the structure, which has been boarded up since 1970.

The baseball field saw action as recently as the fall, with recreation league teams from around the county playing games. Touches of the old days remain -- the wooden bleachers and green dugouts that bear the Hot Sox name in faded lettering.

The team formed in 1915 and in the late 1920s began playing on Wilson Field, which rented for $50 a season. Players, some with big-league skills, squared off against the likes of Jim Gilliam, who eventually played for the Brooklyn Dodgers. A few, like Chester Turner and Tommy Sesker earned tryouts with the major leagues, but for most, the team was a way to small-town glory.

The committee is hopeful that the memories and legacy of the team and the community that supported it will propel a successful preservation effort.

"The black community has been very important economically and socially to Galesville," said Roberta Cassard of the Galesville Heritage Society. "The field is an ideal spot to honor their contributions, and we feel it's an important space to preserve."

nia.henderson@baltsun.com

Tuesday's meeting is at Galesville Memorial Hall, 952 Main St. at 10 a.m.

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