Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

IMAGES OF OUR PAST - GERMAN AND ITALIAN POWs in DUBLIN, GEORGIA, 1943

As the United States became more involved in World War II, more farm products were needed in support of the war effort. The problem was that many of the farmers were no longer fighting the weather but fighting in Europe and the Pacific. Those at home aided the war effort by stepping up agricultural production. In 1943, State Senator Herschel Lovett, County Agent Harry Edge, and Emergency Farm Labor Assistant Walter B. Daniel contacted Congressman Carl Vinson of Milledgeville to request the location of a temporary prisoner of war camp in Dublin. 

Laurens County needed help in gathering the crops that would be ready for harvest in the summer through early fall. The gentlemen requested that a camp be set up at the County Farm on Highway 441 just above the present Interstate highway. Vinson contacted Col. I.B. Summers of the Prisoner of War Division of the Federal government. Col. Summers advised Vinson that the location of camp would not be easy because of the lack of trained prison guards. Vinson, undaunted, contacted Col. R.E. Patterson of the prison camp at Camp Wheeler, near Macon. Col. Patterson echoed the doubts about a camp for Dublin.

Under the guidelines of the Geneva Convention of 1929, prisoners of war must be paid eighty cents per day for labor outside of the prison camp. Prison labor was limited by the number of guards, not the number of prisoners. The Farm Labor Advisory Committee, consisting of Bob Hodges, Wade Dominy, C.L. Thigpen, R.T. Gilder, H.W. Dozier, Frank Clark, D.W. Alligood, and A.O. Hadden continued to press Vinson to acquire the camp to help in the harvest. Finally, Vinson succeeded and the army allowed some prisoners to be sent from Camp Wheeler.

The first couple of hundred prisoners arrived on August 26, 1943, under the supervision of Capt. Henry J. Bordeaux. The first prisoners were Italians. The camp was not located on the county farm but on the site of the old 12th District Fairgrounds where the New York Yankees, Boston Braves, and St. Louis Cardinals had played and where the cowboy hero Tom Mix had thrilled thousands with his traveling circus. The fairgrounds played host to thrilling feats of athletic skill by Olympic champion Jesse Owens in 1940, along with a barnstorming game with two Negro league teams. The fairgrounds were bounded on the north by the railroad east by Troup Street, south by Telfair Street and West by Joiner Street. The prisoners arrived just in time to help with the peanut harvesting in Laurens and surrounding counties. The camp was completed in three days under the Army Corps of Engineers and the Quartermaster Corps. After the camp was set up, the prisoners were immediately taken to the fields. The men were used to chop cotton and stack peanuts.

The recently completed naval airfield near Dublin soon began handling the first direct air mail into Dublin. The guards were getting letters from Fort Benning flown into Dublin every other day. The civic and church groups made the guards feel at home with parties, home cooking, and entertainment at the service center in the Henry Building at 101 West Jackson Street. It was not long before the soldiers could return the favor. A young woman was lying in the hospital in desperate need of a blood transfusion. No local donors with a matching type could be found. Her friends called the camp commander, Col. S.L. Irwin for help. Several volunteers arrived at the hospital within ten minutes. The soldiers came back for a second transfusion. The patient recovered. Nearly every one of the 250 guards stationed at the prison camp responded to the call of Lehman P. Keen, chairman of the 3rd War Bond Drive. The German prisoners adapted well to the South and were even heard singing "Dixie" after a hard day's work on the farm.

By October, the need for farm labor had significantly declined. The Army planned to move the camp by mid- October. The Fourth Service Command granted permission for the camp to remain open into November. One half of the five hundred prisoners were moved in the third week of October along with their guards under the leadership of Capt. Jennings. New guards were brought in to replace those who left. Shortly, the camp would close down for the winter.

Just as the allied forces began the invasion of Europe in June of 1944, the German prisoners returned to Dublin. It would be a long hot summer for the German prisoners in Dublin. One prisoner was killed by a falling tree on Snellgrove plantation. The prisoner was working with the pulpwood crew of Robert Cullens. On July the Fourth, three prisoners, Josef Damer, Jeorge Fries, and Willi Pape escaped while on a work detail at the Warner Callan Farm near Scott. They were captured the following day. Some people say that the prisoners just got lost in the woods and were not attempting to escape. The commandant of the camp instituted harsh disciplinary procedures as a result of the escape. The prisoners countered by staging a sit down strike - refusing to work on the farms. Within a few days, calmer heads prevailed. The matter was settled. By the end of the summer, the situation had eased, and the Army guards had enough free time to play baseball, basketball, and football games against the U.S. Navy at the new naval hospital.

Many of the local people bore no hatred to the prisoners. Nearly every Sunday morning the prisoners would march from the camp down Academy Avenue and turn north on Church Street for mass at the Catholic Church. Along the way the Germans sang hymns. The prisoners cooked their own food. Inside the camp there were many good cooks. Some people parked their cars outside the camp fence to catch the sounds of the beautiful German songs and get a sniff of the delicious German dishes being prepared inside the wall. Janice W. Williams of Wrightsville has a vivid memory of seeing a truck load of Germans passing through Johnson County one day. "One man stood in the back of the truck facing the front as their leader. I would watch them go through and they were strong, healthy men. Someone said they didn’t want to escape because they were out of the war and well fed," Mrs. Williams remembered.

One day while Oliver Bennett was working in the paint shop at the Naval Hospital, he noticed a German prisoner, by the name of S. Pretscher, sketching a picture of his girlfriend on a piece of scrap cardboard. Bennett was so impressed that he asked the man to paint a picture for him. Bennett secured the necessary materials - a linen towel stretched to form a canvas and a the paint. Pretscher went into his studio, a tent on the prison grounds, and diligently worked on the painting, which was a country scene from his homeland. Pretscher presented the painting to Bennett who remained friends after the war ended. The beautiful painting remains in the Bennett family today.

The prisoners came back for one more summer to help the farmers in harvesting their crops, which were still needed for the effort. With the end of the war in August of 1945, there was no longer a need for the camp. The camp closed in early January of 1946. Today, one lone barracks from the camp still stands at the corner of Troup Street and the railroad. It serves as a living reminder of the a time which we all hope will never be seen again.

Monday, April 24, 2017

IMAGES OF OUR PAST - THE HOLMES/BEALL HOME, U.S. HIGHWAY 80 EAST, EAST DUBLIN, GEORGIA

These two photographs come from the collection of 
Irene R. Claxton at the Dublin Laurens Museum.
They were taken more than 50 years ago.  The home, property of the Beall family,
is still intact today. 




Saturday, April 22, 2017

Friday, April 21, 2017

ONCE UPON AN ANECDOTE - THE OTHER JACKIE ROBINSON

ONCE UPON AN ANECDOTE.
“The Other Jackie Robinson”

When Lyle Stone and the New Orleans Creoles came to Dublin in the spring of 1950, they came to play a ball game to raise funds for the new swimming pool at the Colored 4-H Camp.  The game was played on May 17, 1950  in Lovett Park.  The Creoles, one of the top minor league teams of the Negro Leagues, traveled the country playing big league teams like the Kansas City Monarchs, Birmingham Black Barons and the Louisville Cubs, and lower level minor league teams like the Georgia Cubans who were their opponents that evening. Alas, there was no report of the results of the game, which came in second to the ballyhooed Lyle, who was billed as the “new Jackie Robinson.”

Playing for the Creoles that night in Dublin were old veterans Alfred Pinkston, Roy Swanson, Bill Terrell, Joe Spence, Ernie Costello, James Williams, Buddy Lombard, James Ruston, “Lefty” Brooks, and “Lefty” Johnson.  Tickets were 90 cents for men, 50 cents for women, and 40 cents for children.  A special section was set aside for white fans.   The Dublin Irishmen, of the Georgia State League were away from home playing the Tifton Blue Sox.

Lyle was born in 1921 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Lyle loved to play baseball and by the age of 10 was able to play in the Catholic Midget League.  Lyle met Gabby Street, the former manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, at a Wheaties baseball school in Minneapolis.  Street thought that Stone had some promise and encouraged the teenager to stick to the game.  By the age of fifteen, Lyle gave up high school baseball to play for the St. Paul Giants, a semi-pro team.  Shortly thereafter, Stone earned a spot on Al Loves’ American Legion’s championship team.

Lyle’s first professional at bat for the San Francisco Sea Lions, resulted in a two-rbi drive. A pay dispute erupted between Lyle and the Sea Lions management, which led to another short stint, this time with the New Orleans Black Pelicans.  Lyle was signed by the New Orleans Creoles late in the 1949 season.

After the 1952 season, Lyle was signed to a $12,000.00 annual contract by Syd Pollack, of the Indianapolis Clowns, who had won the Negro American Baseball League for three straight seasons.   Stone, a natural second baseman, followed   in the foot steps of a pretty fair middle infielder for  the Clowns in 1952. His name was Henry Aaron.

The Clowns, who began playing in the early 1930s, were the last of the Negro League teams. Originally the Ethopian Clowns, the team played in a style similar to their basketball counterparts, the Harlem Globetrottrs.  The Clowns played an exhibition game in Dublin in 1940 down the street at the old 12th District Fairgrounds field.  It has been said the Clowns were the inspiration for the 1976 movie, “Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings.”  The Clowns were the first professional baseball team to hire a female player to a long-term contract.


By the middle of the 1953 season, Stone was fourth in the league in hitting with a .368 average,  behind the leader and future Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, who was batting an even .400.  Stone’s slick fielding and consistent hitting were a drawing card whenever the Clowns played on the road.  Stone got to see and play against  two future hall of famers Willie Mays and Ernie Banks in their last seasons in the Negro Leagues.

But, as they say, all good things must come to an end.  In late July, Stone succumbed to a series of leg problems and injuries.   The embattled infielder would not quit, but ended the season with a disappointing, yet decent,  average of .243 (.265 by some accounts.)

During the off season following the 1953 season, Stone signed a contract to play with the Kansas City Monarchs, managed by Buck O’Neil, from time to time while still a member of the Clowns, the 1953 American Negro League Champions.  Stone’s two teams often played each other, but the true sportsman was out to win every game.

In the 1954 season in which they won their second consecutive American Negro League crown, , the Clowns added two women to their lineup, Mamie Johnson, a pitcher, and Connie Morgan, an infielder.

Stone’s career ended after the 1954 season.  The Monarchs went on the road after the Kansas City Athletics came to Kansas City in 1955.

Let’s go back to Dublin on the 1950 May evening  to see what all the clamor about Toni Stone was all about.  Erroneously billed as Lizzie Tillman,   Toni Lyle Stone, was actually billed as the “Female Jackie Robinson.”

Yes, the center of attention for the Creoles, the Clowns and the Monarchs was their female second baseman.  In fact, Toni Stone established her place in baseball history as the first female ever to play at the major league level in the Negro Leagues.

Stone remarked to a reporter of the Columbus Dispatch in 1954, “I don’t ask for any favors and I don’t expect any.” She once added, “To tell the truth, I sort of felt like a goldfish,”  when she was asked about how it felt to be the starting second baseman for the reigning Negro league Champions..

Oscar Charleston, manager of the Clowns and a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, commented that Stone was a good pitcher as well and  her good curve made some major leaguers look silly.”

Although Toni was not as good a hitter as Jackie Robinson, she was met with similar problems.  She was proud that the male players were out to get her.  She would even show the scars of the many times she was spiked by runners sliding into second base. When she was lucky, she was given the chance to change into and out of her uniform in the umpires’ dressing room.   Her owners wanted her to play in a skirt, but Stone was adamant the was not going to play as a girl, but as a ball player. “It was hell,” she once said.




After the 1954 season, the thirty-three-year old Stone, moved back to Oakland, California to work as a nurse and care for her sick husband. Toni Stone was featured in the 1990s exhibits on Women In Baseball and The Negro Leagues in the National Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Stone was inducted into the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1993 and later into the Sudafed International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame.

It was up until her dying day on November 2, 1996 that the 75-year-old pioneer player in baseball remembered the game in which she got the sole hit, a solid line drive to center,  in the game against the opponent’s pitcher, That pitcher was Satchel Paige, the greatest pitcher in Negro League history.

“I was so excited I could barely make it to first base,” Toni recalled.


Toni Stone indeed made it to first base, second,  third, and around to home plate.  Today, she stands alone as the first female in any sport to play in solely male major league sport.  She fought dual discrimination against her because of her race and her sex.  She indeed was the female Jackie Robinson.”

IMAGES OF OUR PAST - LAURENS COUNTY MARCHING BAND, CIRCA 1940