What you are about to read is a brief story of a man whose life and influence upon those who knew him personally is beyond measure. Jimmy Porter was not a celebrity, but in my opinion the memory of such a man should be celebrated and cherished for as long as those who knew him personally are still here to recollect his life and his deeds.
As you are about to read, the name “Jimmy Porter” lives on in my hometown of Carrollton, Texas in the way of a City Park and an annual Civic Award. I applaud the leaders of Carrollton for continuing to honor him so. At the same time, I acknowledge and admit that so much time has elapsed since his death (we lost Jimmy 30 years ago this coming December) that the number of those who knew the man, and I mean really KNEW the man is surely dwindling.
Which is one of the reasons I repost this article (which I have slightly modified this year) every February on my blog and on my Facebook page. But it is more than that. Much more than that. Unfortunately I don’t know that the words exist which can adequately express my deepest felt reasons for wanting people to read of the life of Jimmy Porter and to recollect his deeds. I guess it is simply this:
Jimmy Porter was one of the finest human beings that I personally have ever met. He personified in “living color” (no pun intended) what it is be HUMAN. To socialize, to relate to his fellow human being, to love, to care, to enjoy life even though he lived in poverty, to care, to care…. I mean to really, truly care about his fellow human being.
In my opinion, Jimmy Porter lived THE SPIRIT of humanity.
The attached picture, taken by a fellow Carrollton resident Kerry Carloy (Texfstop), is in my judgment one of the most real to life photos which so vividly represent Jimmy Porter. He is pictured here in 1982 wearing a St Louis cap (fitting; as he played baseball in St Louis in the 1920’s), worn blue jeans, and his stereotypical easy going, friendly smile. Thank you Kerry for capturing this image of this wonderful man a mere two years before he passed away:
And so as I prepare to share again “The Story of Jimmy Porter”, I simply want everyone to know as you read these words, that you are reading a brief description of a man who REALLY knew what life was truly about. And lived it.
And so in honor of Black History Month, and in memory of an old friend; I once again share “The Story of Jimmy Porter”:
Approximately a mile South of the George Bush Tollway in Carrollton, Texas; immediately south of the railroad tracks as they cross Josey Lane, there is a City Park where young girls and boys play Little League Baseball and where families entertain their children on pleasant weekend afternoons. This certain park has been a source of such leisure for over 40 years.
Near the Concession Stand, a plaque records a brief history of the establishment of the park and features an engraved image of its namesake. The bronze image has faded with time, in fact the smiling face is barely visible. Albeit the engraved image has faded, the image of Jimmy Porter is indelibly stamped within the memory of every person who grew up in Carrollton, Texas during the mid to latter 1900′s. When I stand before that fading bronze image of an elderly black man wearing a baseball cap, my mind drifts back to a time when there was no such place as the “Jimmy Porter Park”. I recollect a time when an elderly black man, wearing dirty blue jeans and a faded work shirt, soaked with sweat, would be seen walking down Perry Road carrying several wooden baseball bats upon his shoulder, headed in the direction of the baseball backstop of Carrollton Elementary. On his balding head was any one of several stained baseball caps, and attached to his bats were several old baseball gloves. At his side, he carried a bag of well worn but still useful baseballs. His slow but steady gait was that of a man who was intent on a mission. For Jimmy Porter; whose daily duties when I knew him consisted of mowing lawns and doing general labor, everyday was a quest. For whenever this elderly black gentleman was seen walking with bats over shoulders in the direction of town; everyone knew that Jimmy Porter was ready…. for that next “pick up” baseball game….
It was the Summer of 1969. Nixon was in the White House, the Soldiers were in Vietnam, the Hippies were at Woodstock, Neil Armstrong was on the moon, and Major League Baseball was celebrating its 100th birthday. I recollect somewhat of those national events, but frankly I did not care. I was a typical 8 year old who was just glad to be out of school for Summer Break!
It was the Summer of 1969 when I first met Jimmy Porter. At that time, he was just the nice old black man who played ball with all we locals at the backstop of Carrollton Elementary. Although he was not there every day, when he was there all the neighborhood kids would congregate like parishioners at church for our religious practice of “pick up” baseball with this old black man who we simply called “Jimmy”. (A few years later I learned that Jimmy operated somwhat of a “circuit” in order to accommodate us all. Some days he was at the backstop of Central Elementary to play ball with the kids in south Carrollton and north Farmers Branch. Other days he was at the backstop of Good Elementary to play ball with the children of North Carrollton. And then there were the days that he was at the backstop of Carrollton Elementary, which was just down the street from where I lived).
Little did I realize at that time just how influential this man would prove to be in my life. Nor could I even perceive of the influence that he would have on the lives of all the children of my hometown. Most of all, I simply had no concept in the Summer of 1969 of the history of the nice old black man that we kids simply called “Jimmy”…..
Jimmy Porter came to Carrollton in the 1920′s after a brief career as a Negro League baseball player in St. Louis. Jimmy; who had been born in Tennessee in1900, arrived in town unemployed and uneducated. In consideration of the times; he seemed destined for a life of poverty and obscurity. Although Jimmy was poor;he was anything but obscure. Jimmy Porter would become the best known and most loved man in Carrollton, Texas! He lead parades; was the namesake of the aforementioned Jimmy Porter Park; appeared on television, and even received a house from local businessmen before his days were done! The account of the events which lead this young, unemployed black man to be honored as Carrollton’s most celebrated personality is the story of Jimmy Porter….
Shortly after his arrival in the 1920’s, Jimmy formed a black semipro baseball team known as The Carrollton Cats. He played for the Cats for several years, until they eventually disbanded. Yet he continued to promote the game he loved so dearly. In fact; eventually Jimmy helped to influence city leaders to found, and was himself a coach in the Carrollton Little League. Even after his “official” coaching days ended, he continued to teach children the game of baseball by way of informal“pick up” games. EVERYONE was welcome to play baseball with Jimmy Porter! Boys and girls of all ages would participate in the grand ole game under the supervision of this kindly old gentleman. The games were casual. Jimmy selected the teams; and he always made sure the youngest and the smallest got to bat first. He even provided the equipment. The wooden bats usually had nails driven through the barrel due to cracks; the baseballs were worn; and most his gloves were left-handed; but everyone was welcome to use his supplies. Jimmy usually did all the pitching; and he definitely did all the umping. At the end of the game; every child left with a hug from the kindly old man.
Jimmy was a role model to the children who idolized him. He had a gift for making every child, regardless of skill or lack of athleticism, feel special. As time went by, the children who adored him grew to become the citizens of the city he had embraced so many years before. Every year; he rode in the front of the firetruck that lead the Opening Day ceremonies of the Carrollton Little League. He grinned and waved as he tossed candy to the children who ran down the street yelling his name. His attendance at any Little League game was an honor for the children, and obviously was a joy to the aging Jimmy. He was always allowed a select seat directly behind homeplate, and was well known during the games to verbally encourage each batter. Whenever a player got a hit; Jimmy would wave his cap and holler in approval. Just as he had done in his “pick up”games; Jimmy made each child feel like the star of the game.
In time, Jimmy became the most celebrated citizen in town. In 1973 Jimmy Porter Park was constructed and dedicated in his honor. The monument with his picture (now badly faded) was erected there in 1975. Furthermore, a beautiful oil painting of Jimmy was displayed in the Carrollton Community Center. In 1977; Jimmy, who had no children of his own, was awarded a lifetime membership by the Texas PTA. Furthermore, Jimmy appeared as a guest on the Today Show in 1982. As his health declined, several local citizens; many of whom had grown up playing baseball with Jimmy; had a one bedroom house built for the elderly Porter. Jimmy, who at one time had lived in an abandoned railroad car on the North edge of town, moved into his new home in 1983. He lived there for the brief duration of his life.
Jimmy Porter died on December 11, 1984. His modest gravestone features 2 baseball bats crossed at the barrel. Every year the city of Carrollton presents a citizen who excels in community service with The Jimmy Porter Award. Those who actually knew the man remember his passion for baseball and life; and his compassion for one and all. Such was the life of Jimmy Porter….
Jimmy Porter; b Sept 2, 1900 (Tennessee)
d Dec 11, 1984 (Texas)
I dont get back to Carrollton much these days. But when I do, I make the effort to visit the grave of my old friend. His final resting place is but a few steps from Perry Road, where I often saw him walking, bats over his shoulder, heading towards the backstop of the playground of Carrollton Elementary…. on a quest for that next “pick up” baseball game…
(My thanks again to Kerry Carloy for the delightful photo of our beloved Jimmy Porter: https://www.flickr.com/people/texfstop/)