This article is an excerpt from the forthcoming book by Harold Michael Harvey author of the bestselling book, Freaknik Lawyer. The title of this tome is The Duke of 18th & Vine: Bob Kendrick Talking Negro League Baseball written in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Negro Baseball Leagues (United States Baseball League) in 1920 will be released on May 15, 2020, by Cascade Publishing House. For further details contact the publisher at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bob Kendrick, at 57 years old, has the world on a string at 18th and Vine in Kansas City, Missouri — not to be confused with Kansas City, Kansas. From his office in the Negro League Baseball Museum, Kendrick preserves the rich legacy of the game of baseball when only the ball was white.
Kendrick is fond of describing himself as “A country boy from lil ole Crawfordville, Georgia.” It is a testament to his country upbringing and smarts that Kendrick rose from a tiny town of fewer than 600 people, 90 miles east of Atlanta, on the strength of a basketball scholarship to Parks College right outside of Kansas City, Missouri.
Kendrick grew up in rural America, where the “Golden Rule” is heard early and often by a baby born to God-fearing parents, usually preached before the child enters first grade.
Before Kendrick, Crawfordville’s most celebrated hero was the man it was named for: William Harris Crawford. Crawford’s little Ville is the county seat in Taliaferro County. (That’s Taliaferro pronounced Tolliver in keeping with local tradition.)
In the 1800s, Crawford was a power broker in the early years of the American Republic. He served as the United States Senator from Georgia and served as Secretary of War, Secretary of the Treasury, and Minister to France.
In the 1816 Presidential election, Crawford ran for his party’s nomination (Democratic-Republican Party) against James Monroe. He came close to winning but lost the nomination by a vote of 65–54. Monroe went on to win the General Election.
Monroe ran unopposed in 1820, the only time in American history there has not been a contested presidential election. Then in 1824, Crawford sought the office of president again. This time he picked up 41 electoral college votes finishing third behind John Quincy Adams, who finished second behind Andrew Jackson. The eventual winner was Adams. He was selected by the United States House of Representatives when none of the candidates received a plurality of the electoral college votes. The 10th presidential election invoked the 12th Amendment for the first and only time to elect an American President.
For much of the first third of American history, Crawford had his hands on the controls, helping to steer the new American government into unchartered waters.
By the time the new country was 72 years old, another southerner born in Crawfordville had established his mark on the American landscape. But instead of working to secure the general welfare of the United States, Alexander Hamilton Stephens, a United States Senator, the 50th Governor of Georgia, worked to divide the country. He answered the call of succession and became Jefferson Davis’ vice president under the Confederate flag. He held this post from 1861–1865.
Ninety-nine years after Stephens rise to the Vice Presidency of the Confederacy, Kendrick was born. Little did the tiny town of Crawfordville know at the time, but Kendrick would become a necessary bridge healing a nation divided along racial lines.
He has in his soul, all that makes a natural griot.
Storytelling is his weapon of choice. His oral histories are the story of Negro League Baseball. Kendrick’s tales depict how a simple game played on a diamond with cowhide painted white and stitched together with red thread, and shaped in the form of a ball, is enshrined within the national psyche.
Coming from Crawfordville is nothing to sneeze at, despite how much Kendrick tries to downplay his origins. The community grew out of American exceptionalism. There is much to be proud of and a high standard to uphold. The history of Crawfordville, Georgia, is as American as apple pie, a pickup game of baseball on a Sunday afternoon, and simultaneously as racially unified and as racially divided as the red, white, and blue in the nation’s flag. Kendrick is a unique advocate who has in his soul the compassion and understanding to bridge the division within this country.
Harold Michael Harvey is the author of Freaknik Lawyer: A Memoir on the Craft of Resistance. He is a Past President of the Gate City Bar Association. He is the recipient of Gate City’s R. E. Thomas Civil Rights Award, which he received for his pro bono representation of Black college students arrested during Freaknik celebrations in the mid to late 1990s. An avid public speaker, contact him at email@example.com.