Publication:Johnson City Press; Date:Jul 26, 2007; Section:Upstate; Page Number:1B


Field, sign meant as lasting tribute to black semi-pro baseball team

By JOHN THOMPSON Elizabethton Bureau Chief

    ELIZABETHTON — The rain stopped just long enough Wednesday afternoon to allow the unveiling of a new sign at Douglas Park honoring the Elizabethton Blue Grays.

    The Blue Grays was a black semi-pro baseball team that traveled throughout the segregated South during the Great Depression and until the 1950s, playing games and winning against teams from much larger cities. The team’s home field at Douglas Park was named in honor of the team by the Elizabethton City Council earlier this year.

    None of the players attended Wednesday’s unveiling, but some of their children and grandchildren took the blue tarp off the large sign.

    “I think it is fantastic that my father and the other players have received this recognition for their accomplishments. I thank the ladies on the (Cedar Grove) Foundation for working so hard for this,” Vivian Norwood said. Her father, Garland “Big Red” Norwood was a pitcher on the team.

    “I was real happy and pleased about this,” said Doris Forney, whose husband, James “Chick” Forney played on the team. “He would have been real happy with this.”

    The sign’s design and the naming of the baseball field in honor of the team was the work of J.C. Augustus and the Cedar Grove Foundation. Appropriately, Augustus chose blue and gray, with the colors separated diagonally. The sign also indicates the name of the park is Douglas Park and includes an image of a dragon, which was the mascot of the old Douglas School.

    Others who worked on the dedication of the field and the sign included Ruth Bowers, Tunikia Byrd, Zonna Mathis and Wilhelmina Turner.

    Augustus said her inspiration came from a promise she made to Forney when they were sitting on his porch one Saturday afternoon.

    Augustus said a coach brought his team of small children to practice on the field.

    “We could see the kids from Mr. Forney’s front porch. It was at that time I saw his face light up and he began telling some of those baseball stories that he had become known for. During our conversation, I turned and asked him would it not be special if that baseball field were named after the Blue Grays.

    “His response was a big smile. He said ‘Well now, why that would make a man proud, that be something else, but people ’round here wouldn’t let nothing like that happen.’ ”

    Augustus said it was then that she gave Forney her word that for him, Pat McGee, Garland Norwood, Hoover Sensabaugh, Ted Hartsell, Robert Johnson and all the other Blue Grays that she would leave no stone unturned until they were honored the way they should have been more than 50 years ago.

    “These talented young men were shut out by Major League Baseball because of the color of their skin. It’s shameful to know that ignorance and a ‘slave mentality’ of a chosen few within the African American community tried to prevent these young men from having and taking their place in our local, state and national history,” Augustus said.