Anacostia Community Museum Current Exhibits: “Separate and Unequaled”

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As you drive down Fort Place, SE, you are struck by a building with an architectural structure unlike all the others – the Anacostia Community Museum. The mission of the Anacos­tia Community Museum is “to chal­lenge perceptions, broaden perspec­tives, generate new knowledge, and deepen understanding about the ever-changing concepts and realities of ‘community’”. The Museum offers a variety of programs and activities, including exhibitions, research, tours, lectures, performances, and demon­strations. The current exhibit “Jubilee: African American Celebration”, high­lights three centuries of African Ameri­can celebrations. Another exhibit on permanent display is “Separate and Unequaled”, a history of Washington DC’s African Americans in baseball featuring a focus on the Negro Base­ball League.

The Negro Baseball League was born out of segregation and rejection of African American players. Since Af­rican Americans were largely not able to play the major and minor base­ball leagues, they formed their own teams. The Negro Baseball League was formalized in 1920.

A little known fact is that the League had 3 female players, amongst them Mamie Johnson (for­merly Belton). Ms. Johnson moved to Washington, DC as a teenage and grew up with a passion and talent for playing baseball. She began playing semi-pro ball for two local DC African American male teams in a recreation­al ‘sandlot’ baseball league. She realized fairly quickly that she could outsmart opponents on the field be­cause they underestimated her be­cause she was a woman.

Johnson practiced and played in a Rosedale neighborhood park in Northeast Washington, DC, where she was discovered in 1953 by a Negro League scout. By this time, the Negro League teams were in decline due to the integration of major league baseball which was drawing top tal­ent and fans away from the black ball clubs. The Negro Leagues were look­ing for new talent and ways to revi­talize the teams and garner greater game attendance. It was thought that Ms. Johnson might be one way to accomplish this. She subsequently played in the men’s Negro Major League for the Indianapolis Clowns.

At 120 pounds and 5-foot 4-inches, she gained the nickname “Peanuts”. She was the only female pitcher. During her career she won 33 games and lost only eight with a batting average of 270. She was one of the top pitchers in League’s his­tory. Ms. Johnson played professional baseball for three seasons from 1953 to 1955.

Johnson retired from baseball at the end of the 1955 season to return to her husband and son, rec­ognizing the Negro League was on the decline and concluding that her goal to make it into major league was slim. During her off season she had at­tended college. She graduated and became a licensed practical nurse.

During her 30-year nursing ca­reer, Johnson often coached youth league baseball teams. After she retired, she worked in a Negro League memorabilia shop that her son owned in Capitol Heights, MD. At the age of 77, she still lives in the row house in Northeast D.C. that she has lived in for decades.

The last Negro League teams folded in the early 1960s, but their legacy lives on through the surviving play­ers, like Mamie Johnson. Go to the Anacostia Community Museum to learn more about the Negro Baseball League.

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