Long-time baseball enthusiast Rayner “Ray” Banks brought black history to the Maryland State Fair in Timonium through his Negro Leagues Baseball exhibit.
“I am trying to keep the legacy alive of those players who played in the Negro Leagues,” said Banks who is known as the Negro Leagues Goodwill Ambassador.
Banks has been in love with Negro Leagues Baseball since 1996.
“I found out about the Negro Leagues after meeting the late Geraldine Day,” said Banks. Day was the widow of Negro Leagues Baseball Hall of Fame player Leon Day. Day’s widow donated some of the memorabilia he now uses as part of his exhibit. Banks promised her he would keep her husband’s legacy alive.
Banks credits his daughter Tonya Thomas for leading the charge to preserve the history of the Negro Leagues players. In 2002, Thomas created B.A.L.L. (Black Athletes & Lost Legends), an organization dedicated to preserving the history of African Americans who played in the league.
“My daughter planted the seed, and we’re just piggybacking on what she has stated,” Banks said.
A few years later, he remembered that he saw a sign for the Maryland State Fair. He wanted to bring an exhibit about historic black players for everyone to see. So, after making the pitch to fair organizers and getting the nod from them, he has been exhibiting ever since.
Hundreds of fans walked by three tables of history in Exhibition Hall. But fair visitors experienced something even better—a history lesson with a real live Negro Leagues player.
“Well, we come because a lot of kids come here to take in history. This is the place kids can learn about Negro League baseball,” said former Negro Leagues player Luther Atkinson. Atkinson played second base and shortstop for the Satchel Paige All Stars in the late 1950s.
“I think it is very important to show these very important items to see how African Americans are represented in baseball, especially from the past and present,” said Lochearn resident Monyette Boatwright. She hopes more African Americans will get excited about baseball again and grow the sport.
Legendary baseball fan Linda Warehime Butcher was also there. She is well-known in Baltimore as the young person who swept the bases at the old Memorial Stadium back in the 1970s where the Baltimore Orioles once played.
“This is history. It brings together everybody. I mean it’s baseball. That’s when baseball was baseball,” said Warehime Butcher.
Banks said many people do not know there were two Negro Leagues teams in Baltimore: The Baltimore Black Sox and The Baltimore Elite Giants. Players back then paved the way for modern day success for black players. They weren’t paid a lot. Most historians agree they played for the love of the game.
When Banks is not taking his exhibit on the road several times a month, he’s at the Hubert V. Simmons, Museum of Negro Leagues Baseball in Owings Mills at the Baltimore County Public library. He is a museum official.
“Many doors were open for a nation that was struggling to live out the precepts of the 14th Amendment. I want people to feel that it was totally wrong to not accept people of color because of the color of their skin,” stated Banks.
“We now realize that we are all equal under God and live together in fellowship whether we are on or off the field.”