Harrisburg Giants’ Standout Jim Weedon, 94

The Negro Leagues in Harrisburg  Special Exhibit at National Civil War Museum • Features Harrisburg Giants’ Standout Jim Weedon, 94

Legend has it that after the Civil War, Union General Abner Doubleday of Gettysburg Battle fame “invented” the game of baseball. While that story is sometimes disputed, what is known is that the struggle for equal rights that began with the Civil War extended well into the 20th Century with the Negro Leagues, the shadow league of professional baseball  players that barnstormed across the country in teams that were sometimes integrated. In fact, some of the first Negro League teams of the late 1800s included Hispanic players from Cuba.

In the late 1800s, as the nation looked for recreational diversions, baseball emerged as “the national pastime.” The Negro Leagues featured players who were only sometimes paid and whose history includes on-again, off-again teams and leagues that extended into the 1950s. The Negro Leagues dissipated after Jackie Robinson became the first paid professional black player in the major leagues, and the talent, fan turnout and money for the Negro leagues dried up.

On September 17, the National Civil War Museum will open a special new exhibit on Negro Leagues, featuring interviews, memorabilia and a special appearance by 94-year-old Jim Weedon of Harrisburg. A standout outfielder who played for the Harrisburg Giants in the 1954-55 seasons, Weedon will appear at the exhibit opening reception on September 16 from 5:30 p.m. 7:30 p.m. and at a special Baseball Youth Day to be scheduled in the fall.

Harrisburg fielded a Negro League team dating as far back as the 1800s, with the 1925 Eastern Colored league Giants recognized as one of the finest Negro league teams of all time. A legendary player, Spottswood Poles, is generally recognized as leading the “modern” Negro League effort in Harrisburg.  The immortal Spots Poles was a stellar athlete himself, and was one of the Giants’ star players from 1906-1909. Recognized as one of the all-time great outfielders of baseball history, he was named by famed actor, singer and  athlete himself, Pail Robeson, as one of the four greatest Negro athletes of all time (alongside fighter Jack Johnson, Joe Louis and Olympic track star Jesse Owens).

Spottswood Poles lived at 406 Cumberland Street in Harrisburg until his death in 1962.  And, like Poles, Jim Weedon remains one the Harrisburg Giants who “played for the love of the game” after a stint in the U.S. military.

“When the Negro came back from World War II, there were no Negro baseball teams in Harrisburg, there were only white teams,” Weedon explained in a recent interview. “The Negro at that time could not play with the white teams, so I played softball for the Harrisburg Vikings for two years after coming out of the Army.” Weedon later played for Poles after he organized the Harrisburg Colored Giants in the early 1950s. 

“Along came the Harrisburg Giants, and we played for them on the weekends,  at the same time paying for the Steelton Giants in the Lower Dauphin Twilight League.  Then I tried out for the Penbrook Citizens and made the team at centerfield under Les Bell, former manager of the Harrisburg Senators. At the time, Negro ball players could play in the city league,” Weedon recalled.

During his two stellar years with the Harrisburg Giants, Weedon earned the nickname “Flyhawk” for his ability to seemingly pick the ball off the outfield wall. “We were the only team in the Eastern league that was integrated at the time. Harrisburg players were not hired because they were black or white, but because they could play baseball,” he explained. “We played because we loved the game.” 

Sometimes when white players accompanied their team-mates to out-of-town games, they couldn’t play because local ordinances forbid black and white players from playing on the same field or even staying in the same hotel or eating together in a restaurant, according to Weedon. While discrimination existed, “I never heard a disparaging word,” he says. 

“Sometimes we couldn’t get paid a quarter for sitting on the bench, while today’s players make millions sitting on the bench,” Weedon chuckles.

Weedon played alongside some of baseball’s greats who visited Harrisburg, which included Saichel Page, whom he described as “a real gentleman and one you could talk to.”  Paige, Weedon notes, had four different birthdates published because he “didn’t want folks to know his real age.” 

It was during the 1940s that Weedon met the other love of his life, his late wife Edith, who worked at a doughnut shop he passed each day on Walnut Street. “I waved to her, and she waved back, and pretty soon we met.  When we got married, I had all but $5 in my pocket, and we gave that to the priest who married us. Edith is in my own Hall of Fame, he said with a sparkle in his eye.

When asked the usual question of the secret to his longevity, Weedon told visitors that eating the right foods is key. He also admonishes youngsters that “education” is the key to success in life. “Never ate fast food and never will.  I cook for myself every day with good foods, like beans and potatoes and fish,” he says.

Weedon, who looks strikingly like he did as a right fielder at age 40, remains active and up-to-date with current events by watching CNN every day.  Recognized even today as a “mover and shaker” in his church, St. Paul’s  in Harrisburg, where he is a member of the Men’s Club and assists with church fundraising efforts, serving as, as one member said, “a catalyst for thought.” “I go to the meetings and tell it like it is,” he said. “You can’t do a good job unless you do it right.”

“Jim Weedon’s experiences as a Harrisburg Giant and the history of the Negro Leagues in Harrisburg, with struggles for equality that continued more than 100 years following the Civil War present a unique and interesting perspective with a living, local connection to this part of Harrisburg’s past,” explained Mike Love, chairman of the National Civil War Museum Board of Directors. “We’re fortunate to have Jim Weedon available as a living legend of that era. Tying local heroes like Jim Weedon is what makes local history become alive and relevant, presenting yet another reason to visit the National Civil War Museum,” he said.

Much more of Jim Weedon’s story and the history of the Negro Leagues in Harrisburg are featured in the special exhibit that opens on September 17 at the National Civil War Museum. For more information, visit the national Civil War Museum website at nationalcivilwarmuseum.org or call (717) 260-1861.

Joe Benish

You must be logged in to post a comment Login