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Re-learning Pittsburgh’s History

On Major League Baseball’s opening day in 2017, the city of Pittsburgh will add another gem to its already bedazzled history.

The FedEx Ground Josh Gibson Heritage Park—a project of the Josh Gibson Foundation—will open in Station Square, finally paying overdue homage to Negro League baseball in Pittsburgh.

“The city, the county, the Pirates and Major League Baseball all are supporting the establishment of this park as a tribute to the Negro Leagues,” said Diane Balcom, fundraising consultant for the Josh Gibson Foundation.

Established in 1867, the Negro League began as a result of segregation. The Negro League eventually came to an end in 1946 after Jackie Robinson set down the part of breaking the color barrier in the major leagues. The Josh Gibson Heritage Park hopes to shine a spotlight on the role the Negro Leagues played in establishing today’s game.

“The Negro League history is important to not only African Americans but all races” said Sean Gibson, executive director of the Josh Gibson Foundation and the great-grandson of Negro League great Josh Gibson. “This will give a chance for young and old alike, black, white and all races, to learn about the Negro League history.”

Pittsburgh was home to two of the greatest teams in the league’s history, the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Homestead Grays. Organized in 1910 by Cumberland Posey, the Homestead Grays soon became known as the greatest black team of all time. With players such as Clarence Bruce, Vic Harris, Buck Leonard and Josh Gibson, the Grays were the equivalent of the New York Yankees.

The FedEx Ground Josh Gibson Heritage Park hopes to honor those teams and players through the recognition of Gibson and the history of the League.

“There’ve been a couple of attempts in the past to do this,” Balcom said. “Heinz History Center has had exhibits about the Negro League, and the Pirates for a while had Legacy Square at PNC Park, where they had statues of great Negro League players. But there’s never been a central place that was permanent.”

This park will do exactly that. Sean Gibson says that a permanent park will carry on the legacy of his great-grandfather and his teammates throughout the Negro League.

“For not only me, but for my kids and grandkids and other family members, to see something that has carried their name and carried their legacy,” Gibson explained. “To be able to see something like this that educates their kids and our family.. It’s part of history.”

Gibson believes that educating people on the history of the Negro Leagues is important in understanding not only the history of baseball, but the history of Pittsburgh itself.

“The most important piece of this is to educate not only the city of Pittsburgh about the great Negro League teams here, but to educate the nation about the great Negro League teams in Pittsburgh” Gibson said.

Gibson hopes that current Major League Baseball players will take time to learn about Negro League players who were never given the opportunity to play in the major leagues themselves.

“Unfortunately a lot of today’s players don’t know too much about the Negro League,” Gibson said. “So hopefully when teams come to town, they come over and see these statues and read about these great baseball players.”

Located across the river from PNC Park, the FedEx Ground Josh Gibson Heritage Park will contain interactive aspects such as an app and other educational tools. Gibson hopes that local schools will view the park as an educational opportunity.

“We have a long history of working with Pittsburgh Public Schools already so we don’t anticipate any problems with getting the schools interested in bringing kids for tours,” Gibson said. “Of course it would go beyond the city. We would hope that kids from the whole six-county surrounding area would be attracted.”

Groundbreaking for the FedEx Ground Josh Gibson Heritage Park will begin in the summer of 2016.

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