Discussions into the Past Oral History in Shepherdstown, WV

By James, Preserve WV AmeriCorps serving at Historic Shepherdstown Commission and Museum

Red Sox uniform Recently, the Historic Shepherdstown Commission and Museum received a donation from local resident Jim Schmitt that sparked wonder and imagination into Shepherdstown’s past. The donation was of two baseball gloves and a jersey that read “Red Sox” on the front.  These were left over treasures of the Shepherdstown Red Sox, a black baseball team that operated from the 1930’s until the late 1960’s.  The donation not only impressed and awed the members of HSC, but also pointed out a dire problem facing the museum. While the museum has operated since the 1970’s and the various hands that have run it did their best to represent the history of Shepherdstown as a whole, there was no real representation of the African American community in the museum.

Baseball glove The baseball team items seemed like a perfect opportunity to address this problem head on and started a wave of interest and activity in order to bring this important part of the history into the museum. To do this initial research on the baseball team was done through pulling out an article that was published in 1986 that summarized the history of the team. But interestingly enough there were people living today who could remember the Red Sox playing in Shepherdstown. Since the ’86 article was the only bit of history found at the time, a project emerged in order to get the stories of the black community and the baseball team’s role in it, oral histories.

HSC decided to partner with Shepherd University’s Keith Alexander who ran an oral history class at Shepherd and allow the students to contact these people to hear their stories and memories.  Finding members of the community who were old enough to remember the Red Sox and willing to participate was challenging for the students who decided to then expand their search to the African American community in Jefferson County. The oral histories were presented at a HSC event this past month and the histories will soon be passed over to the university archives, HSC archives, and the Jefferson County Historical Society archives.

Red Sox team

In a recent development, two former players of the Red Sox agreed to step forward and be interviewed for the project. Reverend Charles Hunter and Clarence Branson had both played on the Red Sox in the 1960’s and were born and raised in Shepherdstown.  In an hour and half interview they recounted stories of playing for the team, the sense of community felt in the town, and the discrimination they had experienced in their lifetimes. The stories were very helpful and incredibly interesting. Both men also still have their uniforms from playing and are willing to lend them to HSC for use in their display. The African American and Shepherdstown Red Sox display is still likely to be ready several months in the future, a lot of the initial research has been made possible by the truly amazing stories told through the oral history project.

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AmeriCorps is a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service, an independent federal agency whose mission is to improve lives, strengthen communities, and foster civic engagement through service and volunteering. To learn more about AmeriCorps see www.americorps.gov. The PreserveWV AmeriCorps program is sponsored by Volunteer West Virginia, the state’s Commission for National and Community Service: www.volunteerwv.org/

This AmeriCorps program is funded in part by a grant from Volunteer WV, the State’s Commission for National and Community Service and the Corporation for National and Community Service. Volunteer WV encourages West Virginians of all ages and abilities to be involved in service to their community.

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