Exhibit examines role of Negro Leagues baseball in Dunn County

Posted February 22, 2017

In honor of Black History Month, Chalmer Davee Library at UW-River Falls is sporting a Negro Leagues traveling history display.

The display was borrowed from the Dunn County Historical Society for the month of February. Kathryn Otto, head of the University Archives and Area Research Center, found out about the traveling display through information provided by the Wisconsin Historical Society. She worked with Valerie Malzacher, director of Davee Library, to get the exhibit.

“When this opportunity came up for a very professionally produced exhibit, that would tie into Black History Month, we jumped on it, and we were very happy to get it,” said Malzacher.

Malzacher said the library usually tries to incorporate some displays or events with Black History Month. Last year, Malzacher said the library had a question-and-answer board about famous African Americans in history.

“We’ve partnered with other units to put on not only Black History Month but, Native American History Month, Women’s History. There’s various months we’ve tried to partner on,” said Malzacher.

This year’s display focuses on the Negro Leagues of the early 20th century in Dunn County, which is just to the east of Pierce and St. Croix counties. The display, titled “Playing Through: African American Baseball in Dunn County,” was created in 2013, according to Dustyn Dubuque, education and programming director for the Dunn County Historical Society.

“Our former executive director, Matt Carter, was a big baseball fan,” said Dubuque. “When he was in graduate school in Eau Claire he had to do something in order to graduate, so I think he decided to choose baseball.”

Carter’s research found that there is a solid history of Negro Leagues baseball in Dunn County. Carter created the traveling display. Though the display’s main focus is on African American baseball, Dubuque said the goal of the display is broader.

“I think the goal was to bring a little awareness, just in general, to a lot of things,” said Dubuque. “A lot if was about baseball in general. The entire exhibit is not just about African American baseball. The exhibit is the early beginnings of baseball in America, it’s the baseball in Dunn County.”

According to Dubuque, there were around 15 baseball teams in Dunn County in the early 20th century. Dunn County teams hosted Negro Leagues teams that would arrive unannounced looking for any team to play, usually coming by train, in a process known as barnstorming. It had a huge social impact on the citizens on Dunn County.

“It really was kind of the first time some people in this area had ever seen somebody of a different color,” said Dubuque.

The display touches on some key players who played in Dunn County, such as Toni “Tomboy” Stone, who was the first female in the Negro Leagues. The display also aims to bring notice of the social impact of Negro Leagues baseball, as well as the on-field, flashy, Harlem Globetrotter-like performance some of the Negro Leagues teams would put on.

The display will be available in the basement of the library until the end of February.