15 Years in the Making: Blue Grays honored with historical marker by state

Published 9:12 am Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Star Photo/Curtis Carden  Jacey Augustus, left, and members of the Elizabethton Twins' organization unveil the historical marker for the Elizabethton Blue Grays during a ceremony hosted at Douglas Park Saturday.

Star Photo/Curtis Carden
Jacey Augustus, left, and members of the Elizabethton Twins’ organization unveil the historical marker for the Elizabethton Blue Grays during a ceremony hosted at Douglas Park Saturday.

In an era where individuals across the United States only saw black and white, a small group of baseball players in Carter County paved the way for the transformation for the game of baseball with two colors — blue and gray.
Officials with the City of Elizabethton and state government joined citizens from the area as the Elizabethton Blue Grays were honored with a historical marker unveiling, provided by the Tennessee Historical Commission, recognizing the efforts of the semi-professional Negro League baseball team on Saturday, July 23, at Douglas Park.
The weekend ceremony proved to be the feather in the cap of Jacey Augustus, founder and director of the Cedar Grove Foundation, who worked over the past 15 years in having the team recognized by the state for its part in history.
“… to realize how much of an important part they played into the Negro leagues and the Negro barnstorming teams is amazing,” Augustus said, recalling the first days of her campaign up until Saturday. “We are the only town within the Tri-Cities area that can officially lay claim to having our very own semi-pro Negro League baseball team. Only we, as Elizabethton, can claim that.”
Various sponsors were thanked throughout the ceremony, including Security Federal Bank, Alexander Insurance Agency, Citizens Bank, City of Elizabethton, and the Elizabethton Parks and Recreation Department.
City officials with Elizabethton played a key part in the weekend’s celebration, Augustus added. With Douglas Park receiving historical listing by the city’s Historic Zoning Commission, Mike Mains, director of the Parks and Recreation Department and general manager of the Elizabethton Twins, sung the praise of Augustus and the Cedar Grove Foundation. The director also credited the work of the past players for helping teams like the Twins be what they are today.
“They paved the way,” Mains said about the Blue Grays. “It’s an honor to be here this morning to recognize such an important part of Elizabethton’s history and recognize a team that helped baseball teams, like the Twins, be what they are today.” Mains went on to read a proclamation by Gov. Bill Haslam, honoring the work of the team.
Following the statement from Haslam, Rep. John Holsclaw, Jr., provided a statement from the state senate, signed by speaker Ron Ramsey and Sen. Rusty Crowe.
“At the request of and in conjunction with Senator Rusty Crowe … (I) do hereby proclaim that we honor and commend the Elizabethton Blue Grays and celebrate the erection of a commemorative marker at the Elizabethton Blue Grays Field by the Tennessee Historical Commission as a lasting tribute to the team’s legacy in Carter County and this state,” a portion of the document, by Ramsey, read.
From 1935 to 1955, the Blue Grays made their way through the Southeast, competing against various barnstorming teams. The squad was comprised of individuals from Elizabethton, Johnson City, Middle Tennessee, Kentucky, Bristol, and Martinsville, Va. Throughout their time as a team, the Blue Grays battled through the Civil Rights era to become a highly decorated team competing against top Negro League teams, including the Asheville Blues of the Negro Southern League.
Along with paving the way for future baseball players, a variety of players served their country honorably with the armed forces. Blue Grays’ players recognized during the ceremony included: James Forney, Garland Norwood, James Napier, Columbus Hartsaw, Lester Forney, Fred Taylor, Hoover Sensabaugh, Ed Thomas, Paul Shannon, Ernest McGee, Will Taylor, Samuel Avery, Carter Taylor, James Woods, Alton Machen, Eddie Daniels, Odell Cox, Jim Stover, Charles Moore, Robert Johnson, Josh Hamilton, Rob Bass, Charles Young, Nathaniel Duffield, Gordon Jackson, Frank Landers, Raymond Gardener, Howard Thomas, Charlie McRath, Russell Smith, Stompin Joe, John Shearer and Johnny Redd.
Numerous guest speakers took to the stage Saturday, including Gregory Wash, who Augustus thanked for helping orchestrate the event. Also part of the festivities included former Elizabethton City Schools superintendent Ed Alexander, Nyumba Tausi Museum owner Wilhelmina Banks, Pastor Ron Collins of Joshua Generation, and Rev. Dr. Jeanette Clark, one of the last graduates of Douglas School, which provided the perfect backdrop for Saturday’s event as attendees were roused by the speeches, each commending the efforts of the Cedar Grove Foundation, the work by the school system, to remember the team’s history and encouraged the nation to come together as one.
Throughout the ceremony, members of the Elizabethton Twins hosted a baseball camp for children of the community. Along with learning the fundamentals of the game, children were treated to autograph signings with players and a lunch.
For more information on the Blue Grays, individuals are encouraged to visit the Elizabethton Blue Grays Facebook page online.

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