Pittsburgh's Negro League heritage celebrated
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Pittsburgh's Negro League heritage celebrated

PITTSBURGH -- The Josh Gibson Foundation, headed by Gibson's great-grandson, Sean, will host the Josh Gibson Centennial Negro League Gala on Aug. 13 at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh.

The event will honor the 100th anniversary of the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords slugger's birth in 1911.

Sean Gibson said Tuesday that the foundation will award two local high school students with scholarships in Gibson's name, as well as honoring Hall of Fame outfielder Reggie Jackson with the Josh Gibson Legacy Award.

Al Oliver, Dave Cash and the other members of the all-minority starting lineup the Pirates fielded on Sept. 1, 1971, will also receive an award from the foundation, and Steelers Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris will serve as co-chair of the event.

Anne Madarasz, co-director of the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum at the Heinz History Center, said Pittsburgh, which was the only city to have two Negro League teams — the Grays and the Crawfords — embraces Gibson's legacy, as well as the legacy of Negro League baseball.

"Seven of the first 12 Negro Leaguers to go into the Hall of Fame (were) from those two teams," Madarasz said of the Crawfords and Grays. "More than a dozen professional Negro League championships. This is a story of people in this region crafting an incredible record of success that brought a community together, inspired that community and gave them great pride in people from that community and what they could accomplish."

Oliver, who was a member of the Pirates' 1971 World Series championship team, said the black players of his era owed a great deal to Negro League stars like Gibson.

"I sit back and I think about the Negro Leagues, and I wonder, how did they survive? Because I don't think that I would have survived in the manner in which they did," Oliver said. "But they enjoyed playing the game. ... Someone like Josh Gibson, I owe a lot to them for their endurance and their tolerance, and knowing that they were good enough to play in the major leagues but just (weren't) given that opportunity."

Sean Gibson emphasized the importance of having Harris, one of the best-known figures in Pittsburgh sports history, involved in the event.

"Franco's one person that not only uses his name, but uses his presence," Sean Gibson said.

"And in our committee meetings at the history center here, Franco was at every meeting, and that's very impressive to me."

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