Moultrie Observer

Local Sports

January 18, 2013

Former Negro Leagues player to be feature in M.L. King Day parade

MOULTRIE —  Roosevelt Jackson, who played baseball in the Negro Leagues for a number of years, will come to Moultrie to ride in the Doerun Elementary School’s float in the Dr. Martin Luther King Day parade to be held next Monday.

Jackson, who is 95, lives in Buena Vista, which, coincidentally is the birthplace of Josh Gibson, the Negro Leagues slugger who was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.

Originally from Gay, Ga., Jackson grew up in south Florida and played baseball for the Miami Globetrotters, the Hollywood Redbirds, the Fort Lauderdale Braves and other teams.

The grandson of slaves, he is considered the oldest living former player, manager and scout from the era before baseball was integrated in 1947.

Jackson was placed in the Negro League Hall of Fame by the Committee for the Center for Negro League Baseball Research in Birmingham, Ala., in a ceremony hosted by the Museum of Negro League Baseball and the Southern League Baseball History in 2010.

He also has had a U.S. Postage stamp in his honor.

Jackson was born in 1917 in Georgia, but moved with his family to Homestead, Fla., when was he was a boy. As a youngster, he watched his uncle and brother play and decided he liked the game.

“It was something to impress the girls,” he said.

He helped sharpen his batting eye by hitting bottle caps with broom handles under dim street lights.

“And I got pretty good at it,” he said. “I had a pretty good eye. I usually batted leadoff.”

When Jackson got his start in professional baseball, blacks did not play in the minor or major leagues.

Starting out as a second baseman, he used his speed so often to venture into the outfield to get fly balls, that he eventually moved to center field.

“They used to call me Rabbit,” he said. “I could run down balls in all the fields.”

When he started playing baseball in the 1930s, the game was much different from what it is today.

The main difference is that blacks played in their own leagues.

And that what Jackson did, playing for a number of teams in South Florida.

He remembers watching the Boston Braves in spring training one year and thinking he had better speed than some of the major league outfielders.

Jackson said he was playing for a semipro team when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball by playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

Jackson later was hired as a scout by the Philadephia Phillies.

Jackson moved back to Georgia a number of years ago and decided he wanted to farm in Buena Vista, which is about 45 miles from where he was born and where “Josh Gibson” is painted in big letters on the water tower.

And he has become friends with Gibson’s great-grandson and also became acquainted with a fellow in nearby Plains: former President Jimmy Carter.

That eyesight that helped him at the plate those many years ago playing in Negro leagues in south Florida is failing.

But Jackson doesn’t complain and said longevity is in family, noting that his father and grandfather each lived to be over 100.

And he says he is looking forward to coming to Moultrie to be in the annual parade.

“I just thank God,” he says. “Everything seems to be going good.”

 

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