Negro League baseball vets join Knights Tuesday for Jackie Robinson Day tribute

Ray Banks throw out a pitch at last year’s Charlotte Knights event honoring Negro League ball players.
Ray Banks throw out a pitch at last year’s Charlotte Knights event honoring Negro League ball players.

The Charlotte Knights Tuesday, Aug. 18, game against the Pawtucket Red Sox will showcase the region’s rich tradition of the Negro Leagues, with five former Negro League players on hand to meet fans and sign autographs.

The celebration at BB&T Ballpark will also serve as the team’s annual Jackie Robinson Day Tribute, which features all Charlotte Knights players wearing #42 jerseys for the game against Pawtucket, a Triple-A Affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.

Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier on April 15, 1947 and Major League Baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson Day each year on April 15. (The Knights were on the road on April 15 this season.)

The five former players who will take part in the team’s Negro League Tribute Day are Eddie “G.G.” Burton, Luther “Luke” Atkinson, Sam Allen, Bill Cathcart, and Carl “Satch” Forney. Burton is a current resident of Charlotte and has been honored during the team’s Negro League Night each of the past three seasons. Burton has played a big part in organizing the tributes each year, says the Knights.

Negro League ambassador Michael Turner Webb, a Charlotte resident, will also be on hand for Sunday’s game. A 2013 graduate of Johnson C. Smith University, Webb has been helping to collect historical data about Charlotte area Negro League teams.

Charlotte was once home to some of the most famous Negro League Baseball teams in the Eastern United States, with names like the Charlotte Black Hornets, the Red Socks and the Charlotte Pepsi Cola Giants. But like so many chapters of 20th century African-American history, the facts were ignored for so long that many of the details have been lost.

Charlotte’s tradition of black baseball has been traced as far back as the 1880s, including teams populated by student athletes from what is now Johnson C. Smith University.

The Center for Negro League Baseball says the Charlotte Black Hornets were among the most famous of the minor league teams, while Charlotte’s Red Socks were a “barnstorming team” that played in a smaller geographic area.

Gates open 6 p.m. at BB&T Ballpark for Tuesday’s game, which is the first “Turnback Tuesday” of the season. At each Tuesday home game this year, the Knights will honor an era of baseball in Charlotte. Starting with the game on Tuesday, May 2, all Knights players will wear 1990 Knights Throwback jerseys for all 10 remaining Tuesday games.