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Local park honors former Negro League Baseball pitcher

3/21/2013, 9:52 a.m.
Bill Blair, second from left, is presented with his official Houston Astros jersey after the former Negro League baseball player was ceremoniously drafted by the Astros. Blair stands with (l. to r.) Dave Winfield, founder of the Negro League draft, Enos Cabell, special assistant to the general manager for the Astros and Jimmie Lee Solomon, executive vice president of Major League Baseball. Photo courtesy of Elite News

Dallas is full of rich Black History, with hundreds of African Americans who paved the way for the freedoms that many take for granted today. Among them is William “Bill” Blair Jr., born in 1921, a time when African Americans were still treated as less-than equal human beings.

Born and raised in Dallas, Blair attended B. F. Durrell Elementary, where – as he often brags – he went with the founder of The Dallas Examiner, Fred J. Finch Jr. He graduated from Booker T. Washington High School and went on to Prairie View A&M University – which were segregated schools for Blacks at that time. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II and was the youngest African American to become a first sergeant.

In 1946, he began pitching in the Negro League Baseball for the Cincinnati Clowns. The team was known for their Harlem Globetrotter-like performances. Because all-White baseball teams refused to recruit Black players, the Clowns were one of the many African American teams that formed their own team under the Negro League. He also played for the Cincinnati Crescents and the Detroit Stars – one of the most powerful teams, according to the Negro League Baseball Museum. In 1948, Blair founded Southwest Sports News.

“I didn’t know anything about running a newspaper, but I knew it was something I wanted to do,” he reminisced.

He laid down his ball and glove after an injury to his pitching arm in 1951.

In 1960, the newspaper was renamed the Elite News, to amplify the voice of the African American community during the Civil Rights Movement. The company profile boasts of him being the first to award African Americans for their excellence, during the Elite News Awards, established in 1975. In 1986, he launched the city’s first Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. parade.

After the movement ended, the newspaper began to focus more on the voice of the church.

Noting Blair’s historic accomplishments, two months ago his name was listed on the Dallas Park and Recreation Board agenda to rename a park in his honor. The change was decided in a 12-2 vote by the Dallas Park and Recreation Department, according to the department.

“I found out April 21,” Blair said. “I had nothing to do with it, but I am happy about it.”

In fact, one of the people who did have something to do with it was Anthony Jones, member of the committee who worked to secure the park’s name for 89-year-old Blair. “He has done so much for the city and the Black community,” Jones said. “He knows Dallas and was there long before anybody else. If you really want to know something, he can tell you.”

The committee worked behind the cause of replacing the name of the park with one they felt was more suitable and could pay homage to someone they felt “should have been honored a long time ago.”

Citizens of South Dallas will celebrate the renaming of the former Rochester Park – located on 3000 Municipal St. between the C.F. Hawn Freeway and the South Central Expressway – to William “Bill” Blair Jr. Park during a ribbon cutting ceremony on July 1.