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Black History Month and memories from Middlesboro’s past

By Dr. William H. Baker

Contributing Writer

Within the last two or three years, you’ve heard and read stories about two particularly important topics of importance to Middlesboro. And, ultimately, of importance to the state, the southern region, and the United States.

Although the July 4, 1959, dedication of the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park fits well within the timeline, the park has been written about extensively by me and others over the years. It is not included in today’s column.

The focus instead is upon 1954 and the Little League Baseball All-Stars and upon 1966 and one of the first of two African Americans who signed to play football at the University of Kentucky.

This month is designated as Black History Month and has been since 1970. As early as 1926, the first “Negro History Week” was created and served as the precursor to Black History Month.

So, it seemed a good time to remember other momentous stories from Middlesboro in the last century. Perhaps refresh memories for old-timers and offer new stories for a new generation of tri-state residents.

In 1954, the Middlesboro Little League Baseball All-Stars won the State of Kentucky Championship. Great news for their families and friends in Middlesboro. A tremendous achievement for fourteen young boys who made up the all-stars team that year. But it attracted attention because the team was integrated, with a balance of black and white players. And, it further gained media attention because none of the opposing teams had ever played against a team with black players.

You may have seen photos and a newspaper article by Ray Welch headlined “Possible movie in the making about the 1954 Middlesboro Little League.” Much preliminary work has been done on research, script writing, potential funding, and production.

If the movie becomes a reality, Middlesboro will be back in the news for good reason. After 70 years or so, the All-Stars, their coaches, and their sponsors will be uniquely recognized for making history.

Jump ahead to the mid-1960s and another history-making role by a single athlete, Gregory D. “Greg” Page, an outstanding football player from Middlesboro. Page and three other Kentucky athletes were the first four African Americans to receive football scholarships in the Southeastern Conference. A movie entitled “Black in Blue” was completed a couple of years ago, focusing on them and their role in tearing down racial barriers in the mid-20 th century.

Page had a brilliant high school career at Middlesboro; he played his freshman year at Kentucky; but tragically he suffered an injury in a practice session before the start of his sophomore year. He died shortly afterwards at the age of 19.

He and his three history-making teammates are memorialized by the University of Kentucky with statues on the campus. In Middlesboro he is remembered with “Greg Page Way,” the street that parallels Bradner Stadium, and he is a member of the Middlesboro Sports Hall of Fame.

Great memories are best shared, and Black History Month seems a good time to share these.

Dr. William H. Baker is a Claiborne County native and former Middlesboro resident. Email: wbaker@limestone.edu