When the students started the project in 1999, there were roughly 207 still-living Negro Leagues ballplayers. Today that number has dwindled down to less than 100. During an interview in 1999, with the legendary Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe, he told the students, “When all us old barnstormers are gone, all them barnstormin’ stories gonna go with us. Ain’t nobody gonna know.”
It reinforced our belief that those “stories” had social and historical significance, and were worth saving. And so, beginning in 1999, 26 students began working on the Legends of The Road project, starting with research: Who were those barnstormers, and where did they travel and play?
In 1999 Google had not yet reached Seattle Public School’s computers, and at Chief Sealth High School, there was very limited computer access at all. And no student email.
Consequently, the research was done the old-fashioned way, students getting on the phone and calling people. And they called a lot. Over the course of two-years the students made more than 15,000 phone calls, spending more than 17,000 hours collecting research in 1,077 cities in the Western United States and Canada. They ultimately identified 651 towns and cities where the black barnstormers played, and conducted 467 phone interviews with both the barnstormers and the players who played against them.
Pictured at left are three baseball cards, used by barnstorming players in the early 1900’s, that were found by Legends of The Road researchers and handed over to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
And that was just the classroom work. During the trip in 2000, the student producers made an additional 1,065 phone calls, collecting research and conducting interviews in 123 cities and towns, and spending over 1,600 hours (collectively) in libraries, newspaper archives, and museums. By their documentation, they reviewed more than 29,000 newspaper pages, 2,391 archival documents, and over 13,000 feet of microfilm – resulting in 487 research and memorabilia items collected and turned over to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. Items that provided documentation and insight into, not only, the extent of travel but the tremendous impact these barnstorming players had on communities throughout the Midwest and Western Canada.
By the end of the two-year long project, the students had interviewed 638 players who had either barnstormed, or played against the barnstormers, plus an additional 187 interviews with historians in both the United States and Canada.