Negro League players honored with student-restored murals
Photo courtesy of Natasha Thrasher
By Victoria Stevans
On Saturday, April 22, Perry Hilltop residents and Pittsburgh baseball fans gathered at the Corner of Hope parklet to celebrate the restoration and rededication of nine Negro League murals with a family-friendly ribbon cutting ceremony.
Hosted by the Perry Hilltop’s Citizen’s Council, the celebration focused on the murals that had slipped into a state of disrepair on the corner of Wilson Avenue and West Burgess Street after their construction 20 years ago. Originally built by students in 1997, the murals were recently restored by another group of students from The Pittsburgh Project with the help of educator and professional artist, Sandy Kessler Kaminski.
“It’s one of those community projects that really grew from the ground up,” Kaminski said. “I was really happy to be a part of it, it grew wings.”
The murals are comprised of nine panels, each of which features a prominent Pittsburgh player from the Negro League, a professional baseball league created to circumvent the racism and Jim Crow Laws that kept many players from Major League Baseball.
Along with painting the players’ likenesses, students also learned about these athletes’ lives, the history of the Negro League, and the League’s Northside roots.
“Getting them to have a sense of pride in their history was really exciting,” Kaminski said.
Living on the Northside, students from The Pittsburgh Project walk on streets named after Negro League players, and cross bridges that these athletes also crossed.
“There are all these facts floating around in their heads,” Kaminski notes. “Now, they can start to make a story.”
The students also worked to clear the overgrown Corner of Hope parklet in preparation for the murals’ unveiling.
“The kids had to learn to persevere,” Kaminski said, even though humidity, rain, and wind.
At the ceremony, the students and Ms. Kaminski enjoyed food and games as they appreciated their hard work.
Also in attendance at the ribbon cutting was Sean Gibson, director of the Josh Gibson Foundation and great-grandson of Northside hailing, Hall of Fame catcher Josh Gibson. A player for both the Negro League’s Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords, Josh Gibson is one of the featured players the nine re-upped murals.
Chris Cox of The Pittsburgh Opera also joined Gibson’s decedents and The Pittsburgh Project students at the Corner of Hope Celebration.
The Pittsburgh Opera premiered “The Summer King: The Josh Gibson Story,” which follows Gibson’s life from his start in Northside sandlots to his time in the Negro League and his eventual Hall of Fame appointment, on April 29 until May 7.
Apart from Josh Gibson, the murals also feature Negro League players such as Ray Dandridge, Andrew “Rube” Foster, William “Gus” Greenlee, John Henry “Pop” Lloyd, Satchel Paige, Cumberland Posey, George “Mule” Scuttles, and Jackie Robinson.
The Perry Hilltop parklet was dubbed the ‘Corner of Hope’ in a 1997 Post-Gazette article about the original Negro League mural project. The name was given to the space because of its transformation from an atrophying, crime-filled lot into a place of art, hope, and student-growth.
Now, with the help of project partners Light of Light, Cityreach, and The Pittsburgh Project, as well as students, educators, Zeba Ahmed (a PULSE Fellow first who pursued the project), Oakglade Realty (the financial supporter of this endeavor), the Corner of Hope can continue to live up to its name.