Most people don’t realize 17 counties existed in central Missouri that border the Missouri River that had their own designation. People from the south migrated to these 17 counties to grow cotton, tobacco and hemp. Not only did these southern farmers bring their crops to Missouri, they also brought their slaves. These 17 counties became known as Little Dixie.
The slaves were freed with Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation is 1863. Most slaves weren’t even aware they had been freed until after the Civil War in 1865. Despite the freedom, not many advantages were granted to former slaves until well into the twentieth century. That was true in Little Dixie.
I have written three books. It was a bucket-list thing for me to do after I retired from coaching in 2012. The first two books came out quickly. It’s been a while, but this week my third book has been released. It’s about an African American man that grew up in Little Dixie during the Great Depression.
The book is about Wilson Fitzpatrick, probably a descendent of the slaves freed from Little Dixie. Wilson isn’t sure, but despite the last name of Fitzpatrick, Wilson is sure he isn’t of Irish decent.
The book’s title is I’m Not Irish – The Incredible Journey of Wilson Fitzpatrick. The story I want to tell begins sometime in the 1940’s in Marshall, Missouri. Marshall is in Saline County which is in the middle of Little Dixie.
When the slaves were freed, the people of Marshall designated land for the blacks and called the area Africa. This is where Henry Mason grew up. Bo, as his friend called him, was a year younger than Wilson Fitzpatrick. Both were gifted athletes.
Wilson liked to hang out at the Mason house, but he had to walk across town to see his friend. The Fitzpatrick’s was one of two black families that lived in the white section of Marshall. Both Bo and Wilson attended Lincoln School in Marshall. Many schools were named after Abraham Lincoln, the man who freed the slaves. Lincoln was an all-black school that went up to tenth grade.
The Marshall School District would not allow blacks into the high school, but they did provide busing to an all-black school that completed the last three years of high school. C.C. Hubbard High School was in Sedalia, Missouri. Sedalia is about 38 miles from Marshall.
When Wilson and Bo were upper classmen at C.C. Hubbard High School, their basketball team dominated the black school leagues. Much bigger schools in St. Louis usually claimed any basketball championships, but Wilson and Bo ended that streak.
Wilson would go on to succeed in college basketball. However, it’s the Bo Mason story I want to tell in this week’s blog.
During the summers, the blacks in Marshall formed their own baseball team. That team was called the Black Sox. They weren’t allowed to play in the city park. Instead, they used a glorified corn field on the edge of town to showcase their skills.
When Bo pitched, the fielders had very little action. With a 95 mile per hour fast ball, other black teams didn’t stand a chance. They even had the chance to compete with a few white teams. Bo would dominate those teams, too.
Sometime after graduation, Wilson lost contact with his friend Bo Mason. They each went their separate ways and lost touch. However, both accomplished a great deal in athletics and life.
Bo would take his baseball talents to the Negro League, signing with the Kansas City Monarchs. Another black student from Marshall told me how his brother and him would take a train to Kansas City on Sundays to watch Bo pitch. The train would bring them back to Marshall in the early morning hours.
In 1954, Bo Mason was the starting pitcher in the Negro League East – West All Star Game. That wasn’t his career highlight, though. When I interviewed Bo from his home in Richmond, Virginia, he told me of a certain season opener for the Monarchs.
Bo now had a couple of new nicknames. Satchel Paige, who had become a friend of Bo’s, named him “Country” because he came from the small town of Marshall. He also proudly wore the nickname of “Pistol.” His impressive fast ball earned him that nickname.
During that season opener, “Country” gave up two runs in the first nine innings and the score was tied. “Country” continued to pitch into the extra innings.
Finally, in the bottom of the 13th inning, the Monarchs had runners on first and third with two outs. Buck O’Neil, the runner at first, attempted to steal second base. The throw was there to get Buck, but he kicked the ball out of the infielder’s glove and the winning run came down from third. It made “Country” Mason the winning pitcher. Bo told me that was the highlight of his professional baseball career.
In 1955, the Phillies signed him and sent him to the minor leagues. He was the first black player to play on his first stop in the minors. He won 14 games in 1955 and 15 games in 1956 and was sent to the bullpen to become a relief pitcher.
Bo was finally got the call to the major leagues in 1958. The first batter he faced was Willie Mays. Mays doubled off the wall. His major league career was a lot like “Moonlight” Graham’s, featured in the movie, Field of Dreams. Graham only played five minutes in the major leagues, which was half an inning.
When asked if he regretted only playing five minutes, Graham said the famous movie line, “Son, if I had only been a doctor for five minutes, now that would have been a tragedy.”
Bo only pitched in four games and a total of 10 2/3 innings before his elbow gave out. Just like Graham, Bo’s career after baseball was what is most noteworthy.
Bo became an ordained Methodist minister. One of his congregations was in the inner city of Kansas City as an assistant pastor. The head pastor was Emanuel Cleaver, now a Congressman.
Bo told me Reverend Cleaver did most of the politicking and he did most of the preaching. It would have been a tragedy if he had not become a minister.
If you were to look up Marshall, Missouri and dig into their history, you would find their most famous resident wasn’t Bo Mason or Wilson Fitzpatrick. It is a hunting dog named Jim. He had a nickname, too; Jim the Wonder Dog.
It’s a shame Marshall doesn’t recognize Wilson Fitzpatrick and Henry Mason, two African American natives of their small community. Who knows what you might find in Little Dixie?