things we take for granted. To watch our children playing together nowadays, it's difficult to conceive of a time when it was taboo for blacks and whites to join in a game of baseball. Yet 50 years ago (and, sadly, even more recently) such was the case.
The Journal of Biddy Owens is a fictional story of a 17-year-old African American who serves as batboy for the Birmingham Black Barons, one of the legendary teams in the defunct Negro Leagues. These athletes, denied the chance to play in the Major Leagues (until Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947), included some of the greatest players of all time, regardless of color, like Satchel Paige, Buck Leonard and Willie Mays. Owens keeps track of the excitement of the season, the fans, the personalities. Although his team is bound for the championship, it's not all fun and games. For one thing, there is the pervasive racism he and his teammates must endure as they travel from town to town for the next game: separate drinking fountains, separate cars on trains. The humiliation and danger they faced on a regular basis is a shock to today's modern sensibilities. The Journal of Biddy Owens is also a story of the difficulties in the Owens' household. When World War II ended, blacks faced the brunt of layoffs at work as those who had been in the service returned to reclaim their former jobs. As a young man, Owens is caught between the end of childhood and the beginnings of being a man.
The target age group for The Journal of Biddy Owens is 9-14, hopefully old enough to understand the degradations of racism, as it applies to any group. The book is part of the My Name Is America fiction series, which "journals" history from the perspective of a Japanese boy in an internment camp during World War II, a Chinese miner and a Native American, as well as immigrants from Ireland and Finland. As if to show the price of keeping America free, stories are also offered by soldiers in the Revolutionary, Civil and Second World Wars. All in all, the series proves that what makes this country great is its ability to recognize and work toward solving these difficulties.
Ron Kaplan is a freelance writer who hopes his daughter will play baseball someday . . . but that's her choice.