Black High School Baseball Team in Virginia Celebrates State Championship Win 50 Years After It Was Ignored by Racist County

Former Brookvale High School principal Elton Smith, center left, greets members of the 1969 baseball team before a ceremony to honor their championship season at Dream Fields in Kilmarnock, Va., on April 17. (Parker Michels-Boyce/For The Washington Post)

The old-timers stood along the first-base dugout Saturday on Little League opening day. The base lines were crisp, grass and dirt perfectly groomed, home plate glowing white.

Most of these men, squinting under the brims of blue Brookvale High School caps, had never been on this field before. When they played more than half a century ago, Black people weren’t allowed through the gates.

And when they won their big state championship game on May 21, 1969, down in Petersburg, they returned home to . . . nothing. No celebration, no commendation from Lancaster County, which they had represented in a decisive 11-5 victory over a team from outside Richmond.

On Saturday, this rural county aimed to make amends.

Before hundreds of cheering spectators, Black and White, the surviving members of the Fighting Warriors trotted — or, in some cases, tottered — across the infield as the announcer called their names. At the pitcher’s mound, members of the county government gave them what a previous generation had denied them: championship rings.

“In the words of the late, great Sam Cooke,” county supervisor Bill Lee told the crowd, Little League teams arrayed in the outfield in bright uniforms, “it’s been a long time coming.”

The process of recognizing the 1969 Brookvale team took more than a year to put together but crossed an enormous cultural divide. Most people in the rural county on the creeks and marshes at the tip of Virginia’s Northern Neck had no clue about the players’ accomplishments.

Home to a little more than 10,000 people, Lancaster is about 69 percent White and 28 percent Black, according to U.S. Census data. This is a land of watermen and farmers, with Colonial-era plantation houses tucked along the waterways. Both George Washington and Robert E. Lee have roots nearby.

And yet in recent years the county has evolved. Two of the county’s five supervisors are Black. And while the hallways of the old courthouse are lined with paintings of old Confederates, there is an effort to pair them with signs that provide historical context, said Bill Lee, 70, who is Black and has served as the county chairman.

Lee recalls a different time, when segregation reigned in the region and statues and symbols of division “were things you didn’t really think about.”

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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Gregory S. Schneider