Interview with Dr. Kirkland Hall, 15 November 2019
About This Recording
Kirkland Hall is a curator at the Oaksville Baseball museum in Oaksville, Maryland. In the interview, he describes the influence of baseball on his childhood and the various teams that used to exist all over Delmarva. He also shares his passion for his local baseball field and the efforts to restore it and make baseball a fixture in the community again.
Recording Date: August 9, 2023
Interviewer: Creston Long Narrator: Kirkland Hall Keywords/Phrases: Baseball, Oaksville Eagles, Negro League, Eastern Shore Baseball League, Segregation, Preservation, R Intro: Dr. Kirkland Hall shares his memories of the Oaksville baseball team and the baseball-centered community that thrived in the rural Eastern Shore in the mid-20th Century. He also shares his work done to preserve the history of baseball in the region and renew interest in younger generations. Creston Long: Okay, it is November 15th at about 4pm in the afternoon. This is Creston Long interviewing Dr. Kirkland Hall. We’re in the Nabb Center Conference room. So, Dr. Hall, thank you so much for talking with us today. I have some questions about your time as a baseball player and then as a history-baseball preservationist. Kirkland Hall: Well, thank you just for the opportunity. Creston: We appreciate it. It’s an honor to speak with you. Can you talk about when you first became interested in baseball? Kirkland: Well, I was born in a community called “Oaksville,” it’s about five miles east of Princess Anne. Baseball had been the neighborhood tradition during the days my grandfather played. As a young person-- I can’t recall how young I was—but, maybe 26 or 27 years of age when I recognized that my father was on their team and we all attended the games together. Of course, if you’re from Oaksville, it was just the tradition that if you were a young male, you were playing Oaksville’s baseball team. I was blessed to be one of those who had the opportunity to play for Oak for over 25 years. Creston: Now, Oaksville as a community, about how big was that? Kirkland: In its heyday, Oaksville may have had 30-40 houses in the community, but large families. Creston: Alright, and of the baseball players there, were they clustered in families or was it fairly wide-spread—the interest? Kirkland: Well, early during my childhood, there was a family called the “Miles” family-- there were 6 males in that family—the “Stuart” family—6 males in that family—then there was the Courbin(?) family—5 males—my family had 3 males. Then, there was another Hall family, my Uncle’s-- Uncle Milton’s family, that was 4 males. So, we were bascially a whole friendly neighborhood for years. It was taboo for anybody that was not from Oaksville to play on the team. So, it was basically a familyoriented team. Creston: Okay. And the community of Oaksville, was it all African-American? Kirkland: Believe it or not, we had about 7 families who lived, basically, on the outskirts of Oaksville, but still Oaksville, who lived—we had the Long family, Balson family, Widen family, the Inds Family, and the Denson family. So, there were small packets of families that basically knew each other. Creston: Okay, and they were white? Kirkland: Yes. Creston: Okay, but they did not play on the team? Kirkland: They were basically farmers, the family. This is where most of our families did our summer work. There were limited jobs in the county of Somerset anyway, so all of our families would basically work for one of those families in the fields from whenever the season starts in May, and tomato season ended in September. It was just a thing that we did every year until we became adults. Creston: Okay. Now, the baseball team; Do you know when it took the name “The Eagles”? Kirkland: Well, talking to my great-uncles who were on those teams in the early years, they estimated the team around 1910. My great-grandfather and grandfather were on that team and I was amazed because if they started that early, and I found how that happened because of uncles that went to the railroad. So, they traveled on the east coast as far west as Pittsburg and upstate Pennsylvania and they had the opportunity to see what’s going on in those communities. So, one of my uncles, George Birund(?) and some others, I guess, brought baseball to the community and it just caught on as something for individuals to do after work. Early in the morning or late at night, they always found time for baseball. It just caught hold and everybody fell in love with baseball. Creston: So, this is pretty early, then, you said about 1910? Kirkland: Yes. Creston: Then, did it play—there were people in Oaksville playing baseball with this team from about that time until it ended? Kirkland: Yes. Creston: We’ll get to the end in the ‘70s but that’s pretty remarkable, that longevity. What, with the season, what was the basic parameters of the baseball season during the time that you’re familiar with? Kirkland: It basically started, in the earlier years, Memorial Day. Every money, I can recall, after school—thank god we didn’t need letters from our parents to get off of the baseball field—but after school on Memorial Day, it is a time that—and it’s strange, do they go to school on Memorial Day now? I don’t think-- Creston: No. Kirkland: Yeah. But during those days, we—late afternoon, we’re on that baseball field at the school and it was something that we looked forward to. You think about the teams that are played—earliest I can remember, Oakville always had uniforms. Now, what happened in earlier years, I don’t know, but in the ‘50s, when I was in elementary school stopping at the baseball field, they always had uniforms. They would play some teams from other communities that didn’t, but it’s still considered a baseball game. In those days, every community, every pocket, had a baseball team. This is how they put together schedules. But, throughout the years, those who got stronger and more popular, we went as far north as New Jersey, played teams in Southern New York, Pennsylvania, all through Virginia—and when I say “all through Virginia”, to Norfolk to where Northampton is, (inaudible). So, there always was a team to play and it was just a regular schedule until school started in September. Creston: Okay. Now, with the—by the time you’re talking about the ‘50s and seeing the uniform and then throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, the Eagles were considered—they were part of the African—the Negro league. Is that—or could you explain that? Kirkland: I don’t think they were organized to that extent because I’m sure there were financial responsibilities to be in the league. But they were considered a class-D standard baseball team and a team that took on all comers. My uncle was manager and said they got a call from this team, a call from that team in Delaware as far north as Wilmington, who wanted to play. So, once they had a schedule—and there were some leagues; central baseball league and some others—I don’t think they were affiliated with the Negro League. However, I recall my father telling me how when Jackie Robinson signed with the Dodgers when he came to Philidelphia, they all got together and some called two or three calls a day, pooled to go see Jackie Robinson. So, they had an idea of who was playing in the major leagues, and I guess it was a dream they all had but baseball was just something they all enjoyed. They didn’t get paid for it, and I’m trying to figure out how they could afford it too. When all the (inaudible) burned minimum-- I know gas was cheap during that time, but you’d have an automobile and had to eat and they’d travel all over the east coast. [And the same never happened.] (?) Creston: Now, when you were-- I don’t want to get too far ahead, but when you were a player, do you remember, then, how—who helped pay for travel or paid to maintain the stadium? Was there community funding for that or...? Kirkland: It basically came from the money of the players and some of the community. I started playing at 14. Of course, when you’re that age, you just sit on bench because the other players are in their prime and it’s tough to move them. Today’s time, a player might not show up for a game, but they were there every Sunday. So, we had to wait our time and basically went in our pockets. There was a gentleman who was the head of a small business, didn’t play baseball but was a fan of baseball and would support the team: Baseballs, bats, whatever else they needed that they could afford. That’s how we made it: people working together. The field was maintained just by community. Creston: Okay, I was going to ask that as well. So, the community of Oakville, it sounds like it was a—even if money was not widely-available, it was still a major base of support for the team as far as a crowd and as far as just general support—moral support was strongly part of it. Kirkland: Then, they charged $1, when I was part of it. It might have been less than that earlier, but they charged $1 to come in and every Sunday, there were cars and people everywhere. They didn’t have the bleacher space for all the people to sit, but people were there around the field watching the baseball game religiously. We had to go to church first, so the games didn’t start until after church service, and that was at one o’ clock. After one o’ clock, everybody would go for it. That was the white families also. I know the Balson(?) family, I remember the Inds family, I think they had contributed to the team also, I don’t know. Creston: Now, when people came, you said the bleachers were full and a lot of cars were there, so, there were people coming from outside of Oaksville. Kirkland: Yes. Baseball teams became that popular just through word-of-mouth. People would come from Delaware; people would come from Virginia. Matter of fact, one of the umpires that I recall was from Virginia, and he would bring a load of people who followed him. Talked about how good Oaksville was, nice friendly people there, had great chicken salad—that was the specialty there—and people would just come. Of course, I didn’t know even after I got older. I didn’t know where they were from, but people just enjoyed good baseball and they attended the games. Creston: So, were there other communities like Oaksville from elsewhere in the Eastern Shore that had teams quite as strong as the Eagles were? Kirkland: I remember a team from Berlin called “Berlin Eagles”, the Purnell boys played on that team. I know James Purnell was a county commissioner for Worchester County. He had some cousins that played. I remember they beat Oaksville 4-3 in Berlin. There were some other teams, and a house from Delaware. In a matter of fact, they broke off a 43-game win streak! A 43-game win streak at Oaksville! There were other pockets on the Eastern Shore and Calvert County. It’s tough to compare the different communities but they all came together and put together a baseball team to compete in Oaksville, and I’m happy that a lot of them didn’t have any success, but it was always—the comradery at the game; we talked and we all—there was no mouthing after the game, we just formed some great relationships after that. Creston: Now, when you played for the Eagles, what were the years you were on the team? You started as a 14-year-old. Kirkland: At 14... I guess I started my Junior year of high school in 1968. I played with Oaksville until we folded. I think—I made a mistake, because I said the team folded in 1978, but I had just come back from Fayetteville when I taught there at Fayetteville State University, the team was still strong and we lasted until 1982 when we joined the Eastern Shore Baseball League. We joined that in 1980, but the finances, again, trying to keep the team alive as we did in the early years, it just wasn’t feasible to pay officials, to buy balls, to buy bats, to buy uniforms and other equipment, and to travel, it just became too expensive for an individual community. So, 1982 we just folded and the team became history. Creston: Okay. When you became a player during the years you were on the team, what was your job when you were not playing baseball? Kirkland: Could you repeat the question? Creston: Sorry, I probably didn’t say it well. While you were on the team, you did other work? What sort of work were you involved in? Kirkland: Basically, I was-- I had been a teacher for over 40 years. Teaching-coach. Creston: I thought that at some point, I didn’t know which—okay. So, now, when—oh, I did want to ask about—were there any particularly-strong rivalries that the Eagles had. You mentioned the Berlin team, but were there others? Kirkland: I think the strongest rival team was out of Delaware, called the Houston Cubs. They were another family-oriented team with the Hughes brothers. Mr. Hughs was the manager with five or six brothers and cousins and friends. They were always a strong team, very competitive. When they beat us in Oaksville that Sunday 4-3, they acted like they had just won the world series. Picked the pitcher up and took him off the field, oh they celebrated. I believe they stayed at that stadium two hours after the game just celebrating. There were some other teams, but the Houston cubs were probably the strongest competitors. Creston: So, you said that was another community-based team? Kirkland: Yeah. Creston: When you were playing, did you play against team that were in the Central Shore league or were they totally separate? Kirkland: Well, here’s what happened: As Oaksville was competing, there were various teams, basically white teams in the area, would challenge Oaksville but it was never a team, it was usually an all-star team, players who got together. Matter of fact, some of the men were in the Eastern Shore Baseball Hall of Fame like Teddy Evans and some others, would come to Oaksville. As a token of appreciation in their coming, they played with Oaksville and at that time, it was unheard of a white player to play with Oaksville. But Teddy, (inaudible) we would say, “hi there”, he knew a lot of people. Loved baseball, and convinced people to put him in a game. He would bring other guys with him. That’s how athletics just built relationships. Most of the teams that they played I know were all-star players. Oaksville was that strong that they held on. Creston: So, with Mr. Evans, whom I’ve met-- Kirkland: I knew you’d have. Creston: He would, for the game, be given a position on the Eagles? Kirkland: Well, he just-- I don’t know how he did it, he could tell you better than I can, but I do know, and I was in my youth, I can remember him playing with Oaksville. But we never thought of it, black and white, because that wasn’t a factor during those days until I got older that there was a division between the black teams and the white teams. I basically thought that we were all playing the same leagues, playing against the same teams. But as I got older, I recognized that there were different leagues. Creston: At some point, the Central Shore League integrated, is that correct? Kirkland: Well, you see, there were different types. When it’s called the Central Shore League, I think what happened, they were looking at location of the teams. There was a Central Shore League for the white teams, and a Central League for the black teams. I think that was the difference. I do know that in 1965, Oaksville won the Central Shore League championship. But they did not play against any of the white teams. Creston: Okay, then at some point, did the two leagues merge? Kirkland: No. Creston: No? Okay, this is a part of the history I think I've misunderstood before. Kirkland: What happened, again, after Oaksville folded, Eastern Shore Baseball League was founded because the teams started deteriorating, they started breaking up. Again, Oaksville could not afford that league after a couple of years and then we folded. I had a desire to continue playing, so I joined Pika’s(?) team, then from Pika’s, I joined Virginia Shore baseball team where I ended my career. Creston: Okay, so the leagues, in some ways, just sort of broke apart and formed into something... okay. Kirkland: But we were the only team, from the black teams, that joined the Eastern Shore Baseball League. The rest of them lasted about ten years and folded. The same thing happened to Oaksville. After a period of time, a lot of the black baseball players, males, moved out of the community. Couldn’t find jobs, moved out of Princess Anne, moved to Norfolk, Washington DC, Balitmore, Western Shore, Delaware, and it was just a few players left. The last four years, I can Ray Shropp(?), who was white, Remer Roarke(?), who was white, and recruited players that played at UMES; Rueben Collins, Robert Brown, John Bates the baseball coach—basketball coach at Washington High School and at UMES. Charlie Boston from (inaudible) who ended up playing with the Oaksville baseball team because the other players were moving away. So, in order to keep the team going, they played and great players. Creston: So, at that point, it wasn’t really a community baseball team anymore? Because there were... Kirkland: No. The community was just dissolving because players were moving away and the only ones left were the females that were left in the community. So, we had to recruit. Creston: Okay. How many years was the team like that? Made up of people from the outside? Kirkland: I would say the last five years. Creston: Okay. So, you said the last five years, ending in 1982? Kirkland: Right. Creston: Okay, alright. Now, the community of Oaksville during that time, it was also getting smaller? Kirkland: Yes, because not only were the male athletes leaving, females were also leaving this place and going to other communities. One good thing about that is that the Miles’ are much nearer, all of the eleven children went to college. So, in order to find jobs, they moved. The Stuarts, I think it was ten of them, all got college degrees; they moved. The only one that stayed here was George Stuart, the coach of Washington High, and won the last baseball tournament; State Tournament, coach of Washington High. He stayed and I stayed and a couple of others but everyone else moved away. So, this left us that, in order to keep the team going, we had to recruit players. Creston: Understood. You got some pretty good players that way, though? Kirkland: Oh, yes! Great players! Creston: So, the last few years of the team, did you feel like they ended on a strong note? I mean, it ended but the playing during that time, how would you remember that? Kirkland: Well, those players maybe played one summer, one season, then went back home. So, each year you had to find somebody different. Like I said, it created a problem, but the comradery and the spirit, knowing that the players are going to be at the game, sort of changed. Some games we had only nine players. There was a time in our heyday when we had players for two teams. I either pitched doubleheader's in some games or had to catch double-headers when we played on Saturdays and Sundays. It just became—the whole ship went down about it. We had to play every game and every inning. Since we got delayed, it was two games on Friday, game on Saturday, two on Sunday. We didn’t have the players for that and we all decided—and the finances were short—we decided it was time to call it quits. Creston: That’s a hard schedule, though. Two—a double-header, a game on Saturday, and another double-header. Wow, that’s impressive. Kirkland: Well, the season for Eastern Shore Baseball League was not a long season because of the colleges. Some players, if they had a good college, played baseball up until June. So, June, into June, July, and August, players were going back to colleges. So, we had to get the season in as quick as we could. Creston: During that time, or any time on the team, did you have practice sessions? Kirkland: (soft chuckle) We practiced all the time. After school, after work, we were always at the baseball field, Monday through Sunday. Creston: Okay. It was part of—it sounds like it was something you wanted to do. Kirkland: Oh, yes! See, when my father was playing, we had a Junior Oaksville, because I was a member of that team. So, if it played a double-header, we would always practice in between games to make sure we stayed fresh. If a player moved away or got sick, one of us could move up. I remember my brother, Kim, he was 16, and he was so talented, the Baltimore Orioles drafted him when he was a junior in college. My father, at 35, who I think was in his heyday, some of the players convinced my father to let Kim play. I can remember my father folding his uniform up, talking the belt and wrapping it around the uniform, his spikes, his hat and giving it to my brother and he was highly disappointed. Matter of fact, once he gave the uniform over, he sat under a tree in our yard for days because he still had some baseball left in him, but Kim was an outstanding player. I mean, Out. Standing. Great speed, power, arm, great eye. Father just was convinced—he gave his glove to him. That was the most hurtful feeling I can recall during my youth, seeing my father have to retire. Creston: So, he gave up baseball for his son. Wow, okay. Kirkland: Yeah. Believe it or not, I don’t recall my father going to too many games that we played after that. But when I was in college, my father came to every game. When we played at home, he was always there. When I played basketball, he was always there. But after that happened, I just saw a change. Then, that same change I recognized then, thirty years later when he retired from his job, we saw that same change. Then, just started deteriorating... Creston: Okay. It was like he was giving up an important part of his soul, really. Kirkland: Oh, sure! He played for years and he was the type of guy that would always laugh. Regardless of what happened, he always enjoyed himself. He was always picking and joking with other players and when he recognized that that came to an end, I think he felt that he lost a part of his life. Creston: What was your father’s name? Kirkland: Charles Hall. He was inducted into the Eastern Shore Baseball League Hall of Fame. Creston: Now, what positions did you play? Kirkland: Heh. In my early years, I was playing first base. I wanted to be like my cousin, Clifton Hall, who also is in the Hall of Fame. But then, they wanted me to pitch and also catch, then play third. Then, my brother left and I ended up playing short stop. My father played short stop; my brother can play short stop. Then when my brother Kim left to move to western shore, I ended up playing short stop, I couldn’t stand it. Same thing in high school; my brother Kim played short stop, he graduated and I ended up playing short stop. In college, my brother Kim got drafted, I ended up playing short stop. I couldn’t stand playing short stop, but that’s I ended up playing. So, I guess you could call me a utility player; I played every game as a utility player, but I couldn’t play outfield. That was not my forte. Creston: Okay. In the league, was there a lot of thought about batting order? Kirkland: Yes, it was basically the same as Sunday. Somehow those older players had an idea of who the best batters were, what position you need to play. Usually, I bat at second or third, that’s high school, college, all the way until I played Eastern Shore Baseball League. When I got older, of course I start dropping down the line up a little bit. My brother, Ethan, led off, I batted second or third and my brother Kim always batted fourth. It just went down the line. Creston: Okay, so on the Eagles, in the teams you played, the pitchers batted? Kirkland: Oh, yes! I don’t think I could have stood it because I took a lot of pride in my batting. If I couldn’t bat, it would have been tough. I wouldn’t want to pitch if I couldn’t bat. Creston: Okay. So, you played quite a bit of infield positions and you said you played every game? So, you were putting a lot of time into this. Kirkland: The other thing about it, I was blessed—if a player was unable to make it or got sick or had to work and we needed somebody at that spot and wouldn’t cause any weakness in the lineup, I didn’t have any problem. I played them all. I worked at it too, so that made a difference. Creston: That would have made a valuable player! (Chuckle) So, your brother played and other family members? Kirkland: Yeah, like I said, my father played, my brother Kim, had another brother, Ethan, he played and is in the Eastern Shore hall of fame also. My younger brother Perry played, but his career didn’t last that long because he was accidentally shot during a hunting trip. The guy he was with, who just retired as state trooper, they were hunting, young man got excited and started running, and he fell and the gun went off and shot my brother in the side. This is 1976 and he played some, but it cut his career short. Creston: I’m sure that was hard for the whole family. Kirkland: Yeah. Creston: Now, I know that back in our event during the spring, you had mentioned that, on some occasions, there would be women’s exhibition games. Your mother played, is that right? Kirkland: Yeah. I never saw her play, I cannot recall, but I did some research and she gave me all the names of teams. She played with a team called “Dublin”, she was with Oaksville, and then there was a team from Oaksville and they would play against each other. My mother said they were a better team than the team from Oaksville. Matter of fact, to prove it, we’d go in the yard and play softball and she was pretty good! She was quick to hit and she cheated a little bit, but she enjoyed herself and showed that she could play ball. Creston: What was the name of the team? Kirkland: Dublin. Creston: Dublin, that’s what I thought you said. Where was that located? Kirkland: That’s a little further east of Oaksville. You have Oaksville and the next community over would be Dublin. Creston: Okay, alrighty. So, not that far. Kirkland: No, no. Creston: When they played, did they play before the men’s team played? How did that...? Kirkland: I think they played sometime before the men’s game. They played on their own dates. Creston: Okay. This was back in the ‘40s? Kirkland: Uh... I think late ‘40s early ‘50s. Creston: Okay. Did you know of any other women who played on these teams? Kirkland: To get them organized, I'd always ask Betsey Corvin (?), aunt Tina Corvin, my mother’s father’s sister. Lily Polk... I can’t put a name to them... Mary Fields, she was Mary King then. It was-- I can’t recall all the names, I got a list but I can’t recall all the names. My mother used to call them out and she’d call the lineup of who played and how bad they beat Oaksville. She did that to get under my father’s skin. “The men could play baseball, but the women... couldn’t play!” Creston: They played baseball and not softball? Kirkland: Ah, they played with—I don’t know what kind of ball they played with, they just called it “ball”. Creston: They just called it “ball,” alright. Same field, though? Kirkland: Yes, mm-hmm. Creston: Now, with the field itself, you’ve spent quite a bit of time working to preserve it at this point so I want to turn to that soon. But with the—are there still other former members of the Oaksville Eagles that you’re still in contact with? Kirkland: Oh, yes! There’s quite of few of us. Matter of fact, I’ll say in 2009, really 2008 to go back through the year, I think we abandoned the field. Baseball just lost its flavor in the community; the younger players were not interested in playing summer baseball. We let the field go. No one maintained it. Had a man by the name of Elis Krump, who was in the welding business. He would come by that field every day, called his uncle, Litterton(?) King, called him “Jughead”, asked “Why couldn’t we do something about the field?” because it was an eyesore to the community. Trees were growing up, dugouts had fallen in, bleachers had fallen in, it looked kind of bad. So, we called a meeting, with the ladies in the community and also some of the old baseball players and we formed an organization called “Oaksville Community Club.” We got together, established a plan, got some outside assistance, and based all the finances in that club through donations, through fundraisers. We got electricians to donate some time, some carpenters to donate some time. Eventually, in about six months, we restored it and turned it around. We tried to design it to very similar to the way it was in its original. There was a website called “digital ballparks”. It’s a husband and wife out of Chicago. They had taken some pictures—they traveled all over the country looking for deserted baseball fields. They had taken pictures of that field and put it online. One of our cousins saw it and she immediately called, she lived on the western shore, she called and said “Go online, and you search your ballpark, and there’s pictures of the field.” She also said, “It’s a disgrace how that field looks in the community,” and that additionally motivated us to work. So, after that planning and working together, we accomplished the task and the field is how it is. My brother Ethan and the others maintain the field because it gets hard to get baseball team, very difficult now to get softball teams. Been used for family outings; we had a wedding out there, some receptions, a lot of family-reunions, church activities, birthday parties. It’s still being used, but it’s sad it’s not what it was designed for. At least it’s there for the community to use. Creston: It’s preserved in a way. Six months, that’s impressive. Kirkland: Oh, people were dedicated. We were out there almost every night, including weekends. Creston: So, you built the bleachers and the dugouts? Kirkland: Everything was rebuilt, yes. Creston: So, yeah, I didn’t have a sense of—I need to look at some of these pictures. So, the dugouts were-- I didn’t realize there were dugouts there, I guess, or what would have been normal at fields like this. Kirkland: We didn’t design the dugouts from the same material, because using cinderblocks, we knew they would last a lot longer. So, we did not use the wood that it was back in the day, and we put fencing up around the field. Back in the day, it was chicken wire, of course. If you look at it now and if you can see some pictures or talk to old-timers. Proster Smith(?) passed away, he was one of the older Oaksville Eagles; he passed away in ‘96, a few years ago. My uncle Wilson Hall passed in ‘97 a few years ago and they came out to see it and they could not believe that the baseball field looked that way. Of course, they’d tell stories of how great they were and Mr. Prostor Smith would tell me, “You know, I played short stop before your daddy played. He couldn’t handle me.” Those are stories that were heard, it was just a great feeling that what we did was not in vain. Creston: No, this is important work. I mean, the preservation of—something like that can, with people having moved away, if generations are removed from it enough, it just passes out of memory altogether. So, who owns the park at this point? Kirkland: Believe it or not, I’m sad to say, I’m the only surviving trustee. I’m next to go and I try to explain that we have to get some money or get a loyal volunteer to change that to some younger people or some other people, because it’s not promised how long I'm going to be here, but we’ll make sure the taxes are paid. I also must thank the Somerset county commissioners. After we started working on the field and got it back in condition, it became a historic site for the Maryland Historical Society. They started donating $2000 to us every year and we’re hoping to expand the parking lot, but there’s so many rules and regulations that they have to go through to take down some trees so we use that fund to pay the electric bill, repairs we have to do, pay the taxes, and we go from there. But they have been faithful for the last four or five years. Creston: There’s a historical marker there now? Kirkland: Yes, there is. Creston: You also, several years ago, developed a museum—exhibition that was up in Princess Anne. Could you talk about what work went into that? Kirkland: I was a short-term member of the Historical Society for Somerset County into the planning old Princess Anne days. They were trying to come up with something that would pique the interest of people in the community and others because the historic houses were all standing there, but if you’ve been to Princess Anne 5, 10, 15 years, once you see those houses are preserved, there’s no change. Younger people just lost interest in those days. So, we decided to get a room with a little paraphernalia and articles and player that I could find. We became an active participant during that activity. Believe it or not, I think we might have had 60, 70, 80 visitors who stopped in to meet some of the older players, sign gloves, baseball uniforms; it was a festive day. When we got rid of the clothes, people were still coming. We went and found another relative, somebody I never knew, said, “look, you gotta come meet some of the old baseball players, Negro League baseball players!” It was a joyous day. So, I guess, I can say, it’s wonderful. I could never imagine that preserving that field would turn out to what it is today, that individuals or people would be interested in how we came into voicing, how we worked together to develop and start that field, how older players would come together. Matter of fact, we have a union of other baseball teams from around the shore, but it’s tough to get in touch with them because the teams don’t last that long. They may put a team together two or three years, hoping to beat Oaksville. But when they got beat, a lot of teams folded. We were the last surviving black baseball team in the area. Creston: Of the other teams that existed at one time or another, the African-American teams, the Oaksville Eagles has the most-preserved history? Kirkland: Yes. Creston: That’s what I thought. Kirkland: Because every community, from Cape Charles, Virginia—we went to Cape Charles—Hoentown (?) Virginia; Parksley, Virginia; Seversville(?), Virginia; Treehearne(?), Virginia; Atlantic, Virginia; we played in all those communities— Kinsley Seaside. Of course, all those teams folded early and then Oaksville still survived, Westover still survived. There was another African-American team in Princess Anne, Dames Quarter, team in Fruitland, team in Salisbury. All those teams folded. It was after I played that there were black teams in Hebron, which is right up the street. We played a team in Denton; we did play them. There was a team in Chestertown; we did play them. There were other smaller teams in other pockets of Maryland that we didn’t know about until half of us started doing research trying to put together a list of all the teams we played. I was amazed how many teams we came up with. Creston: Could you tell us about that research and how you did it? Kirkland: Well, a lot of us do just traveling around the state, word-of-mouth, and it’s sad. The black community during those days, newspaper coverage was very minimal. Once Oaksville got that winning streak, we started getting coverage from Tv and newspapers. But in early years, there was very little coverage. Courts where the record’s kept on paper sacks, bags you got out of the grocery store; he writes the lineup on that, use that, and you discard it after the game. I do remember Oaksville did have score books, but what happened to them, we don’t know. I had an aunt whose house caught on fire, I do know that she had some records but, of course, when they went to retrieve them after the fire—there were two aunts that I know that were vital parts of the team as score-keepers. We just basically lost most of the records. Then, again, just traveling, talking to people. We did get some coverage on WBOC and Channel 7 on the work that we’re doing and people started calling and said, “We played Oaksville” and “I have this” and “I have that.” We started collecting and putting the Eastern Shore leagues in. But it was so sad that none of the people... didn’t want to give up old equipment and it wasn’t going to be used for anything and a lot of people died we never were able to secure it and that was a sad thing. But, to preserve history, because there were limited pictures, I don’t know how I found all those pictures of my great-uncles when they were playing in the ‘20s and ‘30s, but I was able to find some of those pictures and I still don’t understand how I found them. We found some and other family pictures but-- (inaudible) we’re still trying to find pictures. Creston: You know they’re out there... Kirkland: Oh, yes. Creston: … it’s just hard to... yeah. Well, when you were earlier talking about your father turning his equipment over to his son, your brother, it seems like there is a special connection that people have to some of these artifacts. Well, they don’t see them as artifacts, they’re part of their life. Kirkland: And baseball-- I didn’t find out about basketball until I got into the 7th grade in high school, but I knew all that I needed to know about baseball. I can remember a radio that my father bought us and we listed to the Baltimore Orioles. Of course, the Yankees—I basically knew every player on the Baltimore Orioles’ team. I knew the batting averages, I knew the pitchers of the Orioles, I knew a lot of players that they played against, and my brother and I used to sit down and say “dad, can we stay up and listen to baseball games?” “Well, after the game is over, you go to bed.” We did that religiously. Then, when we found out about basketball-- I love, still, baseball. It was just something that was ingrained in us. Baseball was born in there and the whole community. Sadly, there were some young men in the community that didn’t make the team and then I found out that they didn’t have any ties to the field or to baseball. Now I understand why because they didn’t get the chance to form that bond with the other players and travel on the highway and sharing the few meagre dollars that you had to make sure you got into the game and make sure you got back and make sure you got gas; if the car broke down, we’d have to get together to make sure we pay for repairs. Those are experiences that are very precious to you. Lifelong memories. It took a gentleman who said, “I don’t have any ties to that field, I don’t recognize that. Matter of fact, I don’t recall seeing any of the games.” Then those individuals didn’t make the team because you can only have so many. At that time, it was a lot of the men in the neighborhood. A lot of great memories and, of course, some don’t. Creston: Interesting. So, you’re still working on research about—you're still trying to collect images? Well, that’s important to know if we ever hear of anything, we’ll be certain to pass that onto you but you are doing the hard work of actually collecting. Kirkland: Anyone I see who I recall played baseball back in the day or relative that played, I searched around and asked people in passing. “Do you have any paraphernalia? Any pictures? Any newspaper articles? Do you know baseball during those days?” We’ve been successful in some ways, other ways we have not. But we haven’t given up. Creston: It’s important you've had success in preserving the field and generating interest, so that can sometimes build on itself and it sounds like that’s what’s happening. There was one other question I wanted to ask you about: I’ve done another interview with another gentleman who’s a bit younger but not much younger. He does some “reffing” in the area now and he’s done some coaching. He grew up his early years on the eastern shore of Virginia and came from a baseball family and there was a strong baseball tradition in the town where he grew up in Accomack. But he said when he moved to Salisbury, that there was less of a tradition of AfricanAmericans playing baseball. He went on to be the only black player on the Bennett team here at Salisbury. Is that a division that you’re familiar with? Kirkland: I’m trying to think of the gentleman’s name... Creston: I can tell you. His last name is “Downing”, Mr. Downing. Kirkland: Oh! Yeah! He’s coaching at Wi-Hi now! Creston: Yes! Kirkland: Yeah! Oh, yes! He and I talked about some things and we’re trying to get together, we’re both so busy during the summer, to start a program to generate some interest in young black athletes to try baseball. As we travel around, we see black young males are playing baseball. We concluded that there’s track, which is easier—if you’ve got talent, you can run track, no hardship—they love football because of dreams of playing NFL, basketball had basically taken over. They have boy’s clubs they’re exposed to and play basketball all year round. Then you get popped onto football at the YMCA-- Creston: Here at Salisbury? Kirkland: In Salisbury. Kids have so many things they can involve themselves with. AAU and all those teams. In the smaller communities, they don’t exist. We knew nothing about it. But there are so many opportunities in the cities that young black males, baseball was just not interesting. They say “It’s too hard.” or “The baseball hurt, and you got to look too hard,” Or “It’s boring.” But to me, it’s the most exciting 9 innings that I could experience, but to them, it’s boring. Creston: That is interesting. We talked at length about it and it bothered him a lot when he moved here, but he sort of made space for himself and had some difficult experiencing travelling—the one he recounted involved playing Crisfield, actually. Anyway, we have the recording of it. To me, your story about how strong baseball was just outside of Princess Anne in Oaksville, and other communities around the areas. Just 12 miles north in Salisbury, there was not a strong tradition It’s been something I've been trying to understand a bit more, but you—what you just said helps me quite a bit. So, thank you. I wanted to ask you about that because it clearly was a big part of Mr. Downing’s life and he still is trying to create interest in it. I knew you must have known him, but thanks for letting me ask that question. Kirkland: Mm-hmm, I know him quite well. Creston: Now, I wrote some of these questions and I have a very limited history myself. Are there any questions I should have asked? Any you’d like to talk about? Memories I just didn’t ask the right questions? Anything at all. Kirkland: Well, the only thing I can say is how appreciative I am to be able to spread the news about Oaksville’s baseball team and just black baseball in general from days of yesterday up until today. I think it’s been delightful to remember the older players that are still living and they appreciate the opportunity and when they see the exhibit at Princess Anne, I can see the gleam in their eyes. In fact, the Shoburgs (?) celebrated 100 years in 2010 and wore Oaksville uniforms and we took as many players as we could. We had an old-timer's game, Oaksville against a team out of Delaware. Had one gentleman, Mr. William Stuart, he might have been in his eighties; they let him bat, and he walked. He went to first base and said he was going to steal second! His son had to come over, “No, daddy, come on.” He was sick, he had been sick. “Daddy, come on.” “No! I’ll run--” “Daddy, come on.” Go to the dugout, and that was the most enjoyable—people saw a son try the dad off the field. He didn’t want to leave! Looked like a little child. Five-year-old child and take the toy from him. He was just that excited and he talked about that until he got to the point where his mind—dementia set in. It was an enjoyable time. Father time takes his toll, but like I said, it’s a joy to reminisce and I can’t speak for everyone, but they allowed me to be a spokesman over the years and it’s just been a great journey. Creston: Well, you really captured the joy. I can hear it in your answers and the dedication that you’ve shown towards preservation. Some of the stories you’ve told here today capture just how much a part of people’s lives baseball actually was. It was not a hobby, it was a passion, really, for so many. So, again, I appreciate your time and thank you for this. It’s been an honor to speak with you. Kirkland: Thank god, I appreciate it. Anytime. Creston: I’m going to go ahead and turn this off now. (AUDIO ENDS)