We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball
“We are the ship; all else the sea.”—Rube Foster, founder of the Negro National League
The story of Negro League baseball is the story of gifted athletes and determined owners; of racial discrimination and international sportsmanship; of fortunes won and lost; of triumphs and defeats on and off the field. It is a perfect mirror for the social and political history of black America in the first half of the twentieth century. But most of all, the story of the Negro Leagues is about hundreds of unsung heroes who overcame segregation, hatred, terrible conditions, and low pay to do the one thing they loved more than anything else in the world: play ball. Using an “Everyman” player as his narrator, Kadir Nelson tells the story of Negro League baseball from its beginnings in the 1920s through its decline after Jackie Robinson crossed over to the majors in 1947. The voice is so authentic, you will feel as if you are sitting on dusty bleachers listening intently to the memories of a man who has known the great ballplayers of that time and shared their experiences. But what makes this book so outstanding are the dozens of full-page and double-page oil paintings—breathtaking in their perspectives, rich in emotion, and created with understanding and affection for these lost heroes of our national game.
We Are the Ship is a tour de force for baseball lovers of all ages.
Barnes and Noble
When Rube Foster founded the Negro National League in 1920, he told his colleagues, “We are the ship; all else the sea.” You’ll want to jump on that boat if Kadir Nelson is at the helm. He has illustrated award winners such as Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led the People to Freedom and Ellington Was Not a Street, but this is his first time out as both the illustrator and writer, and he proves to be a serious double threat. He tells the story of the rise and fall of baseball’s Negro Leagues through the eyes of an everyday ballplayer who just happens to be witnessing history. The text has a casual naturalness that makes you feel like you’re sharing a bag of peanuts with a former player while he spills his old stories. Nelson breaks the book into nine innings, each covering a topic relevant to the Negro Leagues, such as the owners, the barnstorming games against top-flight white teams, and the process that culminated with Jackie Robinson becoming the first black man to play in the majors in the modern era. Each section is packed with personalities and endless facts: Satchel Paige’s pitching habits; sleeping arrangements on the road; the methods of paying the players; the way the heat came up through the soles of the players’ shoes in Latin America. Each painting is gorgeous and detailed: the ads on the outfield fences pop, the action feels alive. Supposedly a book for kids, We Are the Ship is a must-read for all baseball fans. It is, by turns, heartbreaking, inspiring, comforting, unifying, and, ultimately, extremely satisfying.—Mark J. Miller