DOWNTOWN — Back when the game was black and white, baseball united African-American communities with a sense of pride.
More than just recreation, Negro leagues brought entertainment and business opportunities when segregated baseball leagues thrived in the 1930s and 1940s.
Now art inspired by the Negro leagues has come to Tampa by way of the traveling exhibition, "Shade of Greatness: Art Inspired by Negro Leagues Baseball," which will be displayed through April 25 at the Tampa Bay History Center.
They include about 35 mixed media, from folk art to cubist paintings to bronze sculptures of batters' hands. Some are symbolic, others identify icons such as Jackie Robinson and Effa Manley, the owner of the Newark Eagles. They capture the intensity, pride and spirit of a time in black communities when baseball was a favored pastime. The exhibit also includes baseball gloves and bats and photos of Tampa and other Florida teams.
It is one of at least two in the area this year focused on the Negro leagues. "Pride and Passion: The African-American Baseball Experience" opened last month at the John F. Germany Library downtown and runs through Feb. 19. That exhibit includes pictures of old baseball greats, uniforms, baseballs and other historic souvenirs such as local artifacts.
The history center's exhibit differs from others in that it features more works of fine art, such as abstracts, as compared to the painted portraits that dominate Negro leagues art, history center spokesman Manny Leto said.
Negro leagues originated around 1900, after racism excluded black players from playing with whites, and folded in the 1960s when white leagues were fully integrated.
The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City commissioned 27 national artists to create the works.
Raymond Doswell, curator and education director for the museum will discuss the exhibit and lead a question and answer session with former local Negro leagues players Raydell Maddix, Billy Reed, Clifford Brown and Walter Gibbons. When the exhibit leaves Tampa, it will go on display in Boston.
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3431.