History is easily forgotten unless those alive encourage its preservation. Such might be the case with the Lebanon Clowns, a Negro League baseball team that played right here in town, but for the actions of the Wilson County Black History Committee.
This weekend at Pickett-Rucker United Methodist Church in Lebanon, the WCBHC will celebrate the legacy of the baseball team that called this city home for so many years, and whose ballpark became a home away from home for fans every Sunday during the season. The tribute ceremony will start at 3 p.m.
Just over 20 years ago, the Lebanon Clowns gathered for the first time since the 1960s to reminisce about their youthful baseball exploits. The occasion was documented in the United States Senate Congressional Record Volume 145 (1999).
This congressional tribute paid homage to the Lebanon-based ball club that was a fan favorite and staple for so many in the Black community who lived during that time. But for those people, like Jerry McGowan of Lebanon, a page in the archives doesn’t do the Clowns enough justice.
McGowan is 70 now, but he remembers going to Shady Park on Bluebird Road every Sunday to watch the Clowns play. The park is no longer there, but the memories remain.
“At that time, people worked all week,” McGowan said. “Sunday was our day off. So we’d go down to the park to see the Clowns’ game.”
For a young McGowan, players’ with nicknames like Hammerhead, Redeye, Pondwater and Mutt were larger than life heroes, but they were also friends and family. McGowan had a brother who played for the team, and a couple cousins who did, too.
As a youngster, McGowan would always ask his dad to try and bring home a bat from the games. One day a player taking a swing cracked but didn’t fully break the bat. The coach obliged McGowan’s father’s request and gave the bat to him to give it to his son. McGowan said that the bat had significance because it “came from the Clowns.”
Now that McGowan is older, he is concerned that pieces of history could get lost if not properly preserved.
“I wish the city or state would put a historic marker there so that people know where the Clowns played,” he said. “Every day I drive to work, I look over where the park was, it takes me back to my childhood.”
The 70-year-old added, “I grew up in the time when there was a difference between blacks and whites. Things are different now and we should recognize our ancestors that have contributed to this town.”
McGowan is looking forward to the tribute ceremony on Sunday. “It’s a way to show our gratitude to those who played this game and whose memory is still etched in our minds.”