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Todd Bolton - Negro Leagues history is one of his projects

April 19, 2006|by JULIE E. GREENE

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - It started about 25 years ago with one of Todd Bolton's regular trips to the Washington County Free Library.

He ran across Bob Peterson's "Only the Ball was White," about the Negro Leagues.

Being a baseball fan who studied American history in college, Bolton was surprised that he had never heard of the Negro Leagues.

"I was excited about it," Bolton said. "At the same time, I was angry. How could I go through a quarter century of life and not have heard about the Negro League."

Bolton dived into research and began educating others about the Negro Leagues.

He created an exhibit about Latin American players in the Negro Leagues. He loaned it to any organization that would agree to invite one or two veterans of the Negro Leagues to the event and agree to pay them an honorarium and provide meals and lodging so the former ballplayers could share their stories.

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Around 1983, he began lobbying the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., to induct more players from the Negro Leagues. He lobbied for Negro League player Leon Day, who died a week after his election to the Hall of Fame in 1995.

He served on a 12-member voting committee in February, helping to elect seven players from the Negro Leagues and five pre-Negro League players, as well as several executives from those leagues, into the Hall of Fame.

"That's a great honor for me because it's like something's really finally happening," Bolton said. "All those letters written, talks given. For times you didn't think it was working."

Bolton grew up in Alexandria, Va., in the late 1960s, a time of racial tension and segregation.

"It was an issue of fairness in contemporary society where you realized there was a lot of unfairness and discrimination," he said.

The unfairness of the discrimination made him look at things differently.

"You can't change history," Bolton said. "We're stuck with those blemishes, but what you can do is change the way history is interpreted."

He has devoted a big part of his life to bringing the history of the Negro Leagues off the back burner and, at work, spending the last 10 years preparing for the Niagara Movement Centennial.

Bolton is one of three members on the Western Maryland Blues Fest's programming committee, which creates the lineup for the festival held each June in Hagerstown.

He helps organize local jazz concerts such as the Black History Month Jazz Heritage Concert, and several jazz concerts in recent years that raised money for this year's Niagara Movement Centennial.

Bolton, a park ranger at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, is project director for the centennial celebration to be held Aug. 18-20 at the park and is to include music, drama, scholarship and commemorative activities.

The Niagara Movement was the cornerstone to the modern Civil Rights Movement and the precursor to the modern NAACP. The movement's second meeting, and its first on U.S. soil, was on the campus of Storer College, which is part of the park.

Bolton said he hopes people leave the centennial celebration with a new or renewed sense of appreciation for how important that part of history is and how it relates to their lives.




Q&A

Name - Todd Bolton

Address - Smithsburg

Date of birth - Dec. 8, 1954

Occupation - Park ranger at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

Most notable achievement - To have been a good son, good husband and good father.

Your proudest moment - My marriage is the thing I'm most proud of.

Who is the person you most admire and why? - My wife, Judy. She's the most wonderful person I've ever met.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received? Who gave it to you? - To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; ... To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded." (Often attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, but might be traceable to a publication by Bessie Stanley.)

What is the next goal you would like to achieve? - To elevate to their proper place in history Negro League baseball players and the Niagara Civil Rights Movement.

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