Although we are living in uncertain and unstable times, this type of tumult is not without precedent. In 1918 the world was plunged into a pandemic with an estimated 500 million people globally being infected with the virus.
In 1920 while the world was slowly emerging from the aforementioned influenza, racial strife continued to ravage our nation and segregation persisted as an impediment to progress for people of color. During that same year, a group of assertive African-Americans courageously seized the initiative and formed a baseball league of their own.
100 years later we are faced with another deadly disease which has taken more than 500,000 lives worldwide and the scourge of racism rages on in America. One can argue that the more things change, the more they stay same.
During this current crisis, our country’s unemployment rate reached 14.4%. As a frame of reference, only the unemployment rate (25%) at the peak of the Great Depression was higher.
During the Great Depression, Hinchliffe Stadium was opened as a combination athletic facility and a “paying investment” for the working people of industrial Paterson. Many workers laid off from the mills found work under a New Deal-financed program to provide enhancements to the facility.
The stadium immediately played host to Negro League and “barnstorming” games. In 1933, Hinchliffe hosted the Negro League equivalent of the World Series. The following year, the New York Black Yankees made the stadium their home.
Now as we move to defeat both COVID-19 and racism, it is time to revitalize Hinchliffe Stadium. Built during one of our nation’s lowest moments, it should be rebuilt to demonstrate our resilience and recovery. As one of only two ballparks in our country still standing that hosted Negro League games, we owe it to all of the African-American athletes who were excluded from playing in Major League Baseball during that era to restore the stadium to its former glory.
In honor of the history that happened on the field and after being fallow for 23 years, it was with a profound sense of pride that the city recently announced that we would earmark $50 million in state tax credits to the redevelopment of Hinchliffe Stadium.
The project will also include a historic exhibit that will pay tribute to Paterson’s own Larry Doby, who broke the color barrier in the American league, Josh Gibson, Monte Irvin, and every African- American player who took the field at Hinchliffe. In addition to a gallery, the 7,800 seat stadium restoration initiative would represent an opportunity to create jobs in an economy that has been decimated by the pandemic.
A stone’s throw away from the source of strength and pride for our city, the Great Falls National Park, Hinchliffe Stadium’s revitalization would serve as a reminder of Paterson’s role in the civil rights struggle. Moreover, at a time when Confederate statues are being rightfully removed, what better way to strike back at racism then to resurrect a stadium that served as a “game-changer” for African-Americans.
A “Tip Your Cap” campaign organized by Negro Leagues Baseball Museum President Bob Kendrick has been launched to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the formation of the Negro Leagues. Four former Presidents and the iconic Michael Jordan have already given an unprecedented salute to all of the pioneers who showed the world that black players belong in America’s favorite pastime.
In Paterson, we are not just tipping our cap but we are swinging for the fences as we proceed to revitalize a facility that served as a field of dreams for African-Americans.
Hitting a home run for Hinchliffe, will help us knock this economic recession and racism out of the park.
Andre Sayegh is the Mayor of the City of Paterson.