Ask someone either at home or at work, “How are you doing today?” Several replies will be forthcoming. Some respond «Ok», «Fine» or «Surviving».
As long as Sallie Potter’s Louisville Ebony Aces were playing ball in the Negro League circuit, times and surviving were good. A steady salary, Potter’s bus, driven by Potter, with reclining seats, which carried the team from one scheduled game to another, black hotels, black restaurants and night clubs made for an indulgent and uncomplicated life on the road.
When Potter released veteran player Raymond Mikes, because he broke his foot rounding third base, playing the Philadelphia American Stars, Bingo organized the players and revolted against owner black owner Potter. After all, Bingo thought he knew all the ins and outs of the game, having watched Potter and fellow hustler Lionel Foster all these years. How hard could it be owning and managing a ball club?
With Lionel backing Bingo with a little capital until things got going, a barnstorming baseball outfit was born. Bingo first recruited fellow teammate Leon Carter, the best pitcher alive, and then one by one talked Potter’s Aces into becoming Bingo’s All-Stars. Even Raymond Mikes had agreed to come along as bookkeeper. With third baseman Louis’s Lincoln convertible and Bingo’s Auburn, the team was set and left for Pittsburgh to play the Elite Giants. Lionel had helped Bingo set up games in Cleveland, Toledo and Chicago, after that, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, then Iowa. Life was good and surviving was no problem.
Bingo knew hustling baseball games in small rural towns was a lot different than playing the usual scheduled games in the Negro League and tried to acquaint his teammates, who had not traveled west of Chicago, with this fact. “We got to be polite and cheerful all the time even when we ain’t feeling it” (Brashler 50).
Life in segregated America was not easy for Negroes. White restaurants and hotels did not permit them inside. It was necessary to find black establishments, who would serve Negroes. If no place was found to put them up for the night, they slept in cars or outside on the ground in bedrolls. Even if they had money and were able to pay, prejudice and bigotry took charge and made life for the Negro, as a second class citizen. Bingo was aware of this, but he was going to find out first hand how it really was. Life would become survival.
Once the All-Stars left the Eastern cities and established Negro League baseball schedules, they would have to hustle their own games. Because theses games were in smaller populated areas, the All-Stars would have to play more games just to break even. Lionel had advised them to play as many games as possible.
Road travel was difficult and slow, streets and highways were not paved. Cars lumbered over the roads at a snail’s crawl. Dust not only covers the passengers, but also plugged up the car’s engines. At times, after the last game, the players filed back into the cars, got as comfortable as possible and were driven by Bingo and Louis, or back up drivers, on to the next town, the next game.
Showmanship was necessary. Upon entering small towns, it was necessary to drive down the business district, the driver would honk the horn as the players stood up in the car and waved to the people. Then they would change into their uniforms, re-enter the town, driving down the main streets, honking the horn, players would walk behind the car and wave and bow to the people, all in an effort to gain interest and enthusiasm in the upcoming ball game. At the beginning of the games, were hot ball routines, infield pantomimes and pitching shows. Then there was the baseball fields, in some cases just pastures with a couple of wooden benches and a broken down backstop. If an admissions stand could not be built, then the All- Stars would pass the hat in small rural areas. After all, expenses have to be met.
The strain of the road eroded players mentally and emotionally. Day in and day out it was the same routine over and over again.
The ever present discrimination and class distension appeared in many different themes. Louis was razored for propositioning a white call girl, a white car mechanic took advantage of Bingo’s ignorance concerning needing new spark plugs for Bingo’s Auburn, Bingo’s car was destroyed when a white woman’s truck hit it, there were small white town hecklers at the ball games and the ever present opportunity for fist fights at the drop of a hat. Bingo left Earl behind to hot wire a car, which would replace Bingo’s destroyed car, and somewhat even the score for the All-Stars against the White racists. Bingo and the remainder of the team drove on to Crowder, Iowa. At the general store, he was told that the town did not have a baseball team. “She also said the town didn’t have a hotel and that its restaurant wouldn’t serve colored” (Brashler 151). So they bought some bread, jelly, baloney and honey, ate dinner in a field of pear trees and waited for their teammate Earl, who had a previous minor career as a thief. Earl hot-wired a LaSalle, joined Bingo and the rest of the team and once again they were on the road back to Kansas City.
The All-Stars played A. C. Franklin’s team, The Monarchs, in Kansas City. When former owner Sallie Potter arrived, the All-Stars honed their survival ability and with good reason. Even one of their own race tried destroy them one by one.Survival is not easy. It becomes a way of life.
Brashler, William. The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings. Urbana and Chicago:
University of Illinois Press, 1973
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