History is meant to be preserved and steps toward that are already underway for the Negro Leagues’ former team the Atlanta Black Crackers.
Driving down Bridges Avenue in Atlanta, there’s a lot to see now. Houses line the street and a church stands nearby but behind one of the houses stands an empty lot of grass, dirt and a lot of sweat.
The Negro Leagues Atlanta Black Crackers used to practice at an old sandlot field that was overgrown at one point in its history. It was so overwhelmed by kudzu to the point it was unusable. Wednesday morning, the kudzu that once was there was all but gone and the Atlanta Braves, Delta Airlines and the West Atlanta Watershed Management Alliance (AWMA) were in full force with volunteers to create a pathway to refurbish the former historic practice field.
A seedling from a 100-year-old Magnolia tree that grew in the outfield of the Atlanta Black Crackers’ was also planted tying connections back to baseball’s roots of Atlanta’s first and oldest baseball team.
Over 150 volunteers converged on the old sandlot including West Atlanta Watershed Alliance Co-founder and Board Chair Dr. Na’Taki Osborne Jelks was presented a 1974 Hank Aaron jersey.
“A couple of years ago, someone wrote about this space here atop Bush Mountain that this is sacred dirt and sacred ground and I firmly believe that,” Dr. Jelks said in front of volunteers. “There are years of history steeped here in this soil and we are grateful to have this opportunity to start this revitalization of this beautiful place.”
Even so, the presentation caught Dr. Jelks off guard but she’s more proud of the effort behind getting the project underway.
“The story of the Atlanta Black Crackers is beginning to be elevated a little bit more as well as the story of Bush Mountain and the Bush Mountain community and the outdoor activity center,” Dr. Jelks said. “Which is a jewel for Atlanta but it has suffered from a lack of investment over time and this is an opportunity for us to put a little bit of sweat equity helping to revitalize this field, this historic ball field as well as the activity center property.”
As far as letting the community know that there was going to be a massive effort to improve and revitalize an entire old ball field, garden and more Dr. Jelks says it wasn’t hard because community members were at the table and when AWMA first approached them in 2013 and told them that the lot was their space.
“That this was the community gathering space, this was the practice lot of the Atlanta Black Crackers,” Dr. Jelks said. “They take a lot of pride in the historic legacy of this field, of the outdoor activity center property as well as the entire Bush Mountain and Oakland City communities. There was nothing but cooperation and help that came from the community.”
As the sun beat down on everyone, there were just a lot of busy hands, shovels impacting dirt and black mulch being placed down to form a safe walking path over the Georgia red clay. Short trees were placed in equal spacing across but there also stood an imposing African-American man smiling as he looked at the work being done.
Tavius Elder, Bush Mountain’s President, walked around the lot and said that he was very elated and it was a project that was overdue.
“The history of the Atlanta Black Crackers it’s actually been years since anything had been done here,” Elder said. “It seemed as if the Atlanta Negro Leagues had been forgotten and this is a well-deserved event that’s going on here. I’m very elated and the Atlanta Negro Leagues is getting their just due and the Atlanta Black Crackers and Hank Aaron and the first black community on the southside of Atlanta – Bush Mountain.”
However, Elder has been in the community for over 50 years and recalls a time when he was younger with his brother. It wasn’t a big moment but something that still settles in his mind when he comes close to the field.
“Anytime here in America, anytime that Black people get their recognition it means a lot,” Elder said. “Not only to me but to all of us. We deserve it. It means a lot to me. When we moved over here in 1969 my brother and I went on our first adventure and I remember coming through the pathway. We came through and the first thing we saw when we got to the edge of the woods coming to the ball field was a blue cap so I picked it up and it said Atlanta Crackers.”
Elder never took the hat from the field and even after his brother passed away he never found the cap again but he believes there are some Atlanta Black Crackers memorabilia still around somewhere near the field.
“It fell out of the heavens that this happened.” Elder said. “It’s time for it. It’s just beautiful.”