Supporters, former players and people with connections to the Lebanon Clowns Negro League Baseball team filled the Fellowship Hall at Pickett Rucker United Methodist Church in Lebanon last Sunday to celebrate the team.
It was the 22nd anniversary celebration of the Lebanon Clowns, which operated from the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s, and featured dozens of players from Lebanon and surrounding areas that played while Major League Baseball barred them from participation.
Their home field was a lot behind the WANT-WCOR Radio station on Trousdale Ferry Pike. The team’s competition included other clubs from Hartsville, Gallatin, Chattanooga, Nashville, Murfreesboro, Birmingham, Ala., and Pontiac, Mich.
The celebration, which formerly operated as a meet and greet, changed its format following the death of former Major League Baseball player Chris Price of Lebanon in 2009. Price was a Lebanon High and Middle Tennessee State University standout before he played professionally for the Kansas City Royals organization.
The celebration included the annual Chris Price Athletic Award following his death.
“We just didn’t want the Lebanon Clowns to be stuck right where they were,” said event host Charlie McAdoo, son of Lebanon Clowns president Thelma “Slick” McAdoo.
“Lebanon Clowns were just like a family and well disciplined. We never had a problem with our team playing. Most of the Lebanon Clowns grew up right here in this community,” said Harry Harris, the last surviving member of the 1953 Clowns team. “We worked well together.”
Diana Griffith, daughter of former Clowns player John Forris Griffith, wore her father’s former Lebanon Clowns jersey, one of the few that remain.
The event featured guest speaker Dr. Harriet Kimbro-Hamilton, author of “Home Plate: Henry Kimbro and Other Negro Leaguers of Nashville, Tennessee.”
Kimbro-Hamilton, Kimbro’s daughter, received her bachelor’s degree in health and physical education from Fisk University in 1975. She also has a master’s degree in physical education and a doctorate in sport and recreation management.
She was inducted into the Fisk University Sports Hall of Fame in 2017.
Kimbro-Hamilton discussed the prominence of the Negro Leagues, which was the third-largest black industry behind insurance and cosmetology, and its impact on the community.
“We had our own teams and our own entertainment,” said Kimbro-Hamilton, noting her father played for 16 years. “We were doing well in our own communities.”
Kimbro-Hamilton also noted that about 40 percent of Negro League players had a college education and larger clubs, including the Nashville Elite, held their spring trainings in cities that had an historically-black college and university.
She also praised Harris for his time with the Lebanon Clowns and their impact on the community.
“You are one of the legends that kept the flame burning until a Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays … Mookie Betts came. You kept the flame burning and kept the flame burning so that future generations could play and that’s what heroes are made of,” she said.
The event also featured remarks from Learotha Williams, Tennessee State University professor of African American and Public History. Williams, who has taught at the university since 2009, admitted he was unfamiliar with the Lebanon Clowns story, but said Sunday’s program made a lasting impression on him.
“What you are doing here is important and going forward the Lebanon Clowns … that’s going to be favorite baseball team going forward,” he said. “Your story is going to resonate in my classroom going forward.”