- Our White Boy
In Our White Boy, Jerry Craft and Kathleen Sullivan present a memoir of Craft's experience as a white man pitching for the Wichita Falls/Graham Stars in the West Texas Colored League during the summers of 1959 and 1960. Printed as the first book in the Sport in the American West series, the authors organize it into nine chapters that follow Craft's life from childhood to playing for the Stars. Each chapter blends personal stories with relevant history to give the reader a window to racial attitudes, segregation, and semiprofessional baseball. Superficially, the book tells a story of crossing the color barrier in sport. More importantly, it provides a snapshot of life and baseball in rural Texas during the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Interactions between Craft and his parents, Stars manager Carl Sedberry, Jr., and his teammates reveal racial attitudes at an interpersonal level. When telling his parents about his new team, his father disapproved but did not prevent him from playing. After his successful first outing, which included hitting an opposing batter who stood on home plate, Craft gained the respect of the team, and he allowed his desire to play to override any reservations. He saw his teammates quickly accept him as a pitcher but more slowly as a person. After a few games, Craft noticed the subtle change from being called just "white boy" to being referred to as "our white boy" when teammates spoke of him to players on other teams. Carpooling to road games provided opportunities for conversations that led to increased understanding. During one such trip, Sedberry lamented that the integration of professional baseball doomed the Negro Leagues and their unique style of play.
Throughout Craft's story, one aspect remains nearly constant: segregation. Institutionalized segregation began with elementary school, but because of Jacksboro's size, no organized Little League existed. Children, both black and white, played sandlot baseball games with one another until high school brought separated organized sports. In fact, one of the Stars' catchers, Alfred Ray, recommended Craft to Sedberry not only because of his skill as a pitcher but also because they played baseball together as children. Nevertheless, from high school to university, he lived in a different world from his former playmates. Even after later acceptance, Craft remained separated from his teammates on a personal level. He witnessed this when the team told him of the deaths of two teammates after their funerals.
Playing for the Stars introduced Craft to the various sides of segregation. On a road trip, he experienced its exclusionary nature when an all-black cafe in West, Texas, denied him service. In a show of solidarity, Sedberry and the team refused to eat there. Games played on the Fourth of July in 1959 and 1960 against an all-white team from Windthorst, a community consisting predominantly of German immigrants, gave an example of baseball providing an opportunity to transcend segregation. Players, families, and fans shared a picnic that included fireworks and children playing with one another after both games. [End Page 453]
Struck by the differences, Craft describes the game as a whole and the style of play in the all-black semi-professional baseball league. He writes that the games were "equal parts social event and athletic competition, with the socializing sometimes outweighing the athleticism" (p. 28). The fans in attendance visited with one another loudly, gambled, and drank beer. On most occasions, both teams and their fans shared food, drink, and conversation after the games. Unlike his previous teams, the players of each team verbally attacked one another, not looking for a fight but trying to outwit and break one another's concentration during the games.
Overall, Our White Boy provides a captivating story of how baseball broke some of the racial barriers between Craft and his manager and teammates. The authors artfully blend Craft's prose with historical asides, yielding an appealing work to a wide audience. Casual...