Thomas Banks

Tonya Thomas (left) and her father, Ray Banks standing next to an old photo of the Negro League’s Baltimore Black Sox. Thomas and Banks celebrated Negro League Baseball Day this year by unveiling the “Bugle Hall” exhibit on Saturday, May 8, 2021 at The Sinclair. Photo by Demetrius Dillard

Due to the diligence and perseverance of Tonya Thomas and Ray Banks, the second Saturday of May every year marks Negro League Baseball Day in the state of Maryland. Baltimore is home to a rich baseball history and culture, expanding far beyond the Orioles, Babe Ruth, Cal Ripken or any other local Major League icon. A number of modern baseball fans may not know that at one point Maryland was a hub for Negro League competition, and that four of the state’s five Negro League fields were located in Baltimore City.

Thomas and her father, Banks, celebrated Negro League Baseball Day this year by unveiling what will be known as ‘Bugle Hall’ in a special event on May 8, 2021, at The Sinclair, the only Black-owned event space in Baltimore. Bugle Hall, spanning about 90 or so feet down a hallway in the newly opened Sinclair building, will pay homage to the history of Baltimore’s storied Negro League history and the iconic figures that made the league the treasure that it was.

The hall, which consists of a variety of Negro League Baseball artifacts including pictures, jerseys, cleats, hats, posters old newspaper clips and advertisements, among other memorabilia items, is named after the iconic Bugle Field which was once positioned at the intersection of Edison Highway and Federal Street Northeast Baltimore. Additionally, Bugle Field was home to the Baltimore Black Sox and Baltimore Elite Giants— two of the city’s Negro League baseball clubs.

Bugle Hall documents a timeline of local Negro League History, paying homage to some of Baltimore’s Negro League legends, such as Leon Day, Hubert V. Simmons and Ernest Burke. Negro League Baseball Day became officially recognized as a statewide holiday on May 7, 2009 (HB 84, SB 748) after being singed into law by former Gov. Martin O’Malley. As aforementioned, Thomas was integral to the establishment of Negro League Baseball Day after consulting with political figures throughout the state and through her work at Black Athletes and Lost Legends, Inc. (B.A.L.L.).

“I think [Negro League Baseball Day] is important, as it should be in every state… because it’s something that’s not really taught a lot,” Thomas said. “Baseball wouldn’t be baseball if not for Negro League baseball. Some of those players they pulled into the Major League were from Negro League baseball teams, and it’s a big contribution to what they always call ‘America’s Pastime.’ “Negro League baseball was a big key to that existence of it, and it should be acknowledged and recognized so I thought it was important for it to be definitely here in Maryland.”

The integration of professional baseball was the demise of the Negro League, noted Thomas, which subsequently led to lessening interest in the league’s history and players among mainstream sports fans. As time went on, more and more Negro Legends died which also prompted Thomas, Banks and others to strive to perpetuate the league’s historical value.

“The beginning, unfortunately, of the demise of Negro League Baseball was when they integrated baseball,” Thomas said. “So a lot of the barnstorming players, they’re getting up in age and you know when they’re gone, what’s going to happen? Someone’s got to be able to tell their story and preserve the history.”

However, Bugle Hall isn’t the only local exhibit highlighting the legacy of the Negro Leagues. The Hubert V. Simmons Museum in Owings Mills is another local fixture spotlighting the city’s in-depth Negro League legacy. A ‘Bugle Hall’ welcome sign, large Bugle Field picture and a few other items are still en route to The Sinclair. Once everything arrives, all items will be posted on the walls of Bugle Hall.

Thomas, co-owner of H3irloom Food Group along with her husband David, partnered with The Sinclair owners Floyd and Linda Taliaferro to bring the Bugle Hall to fruition. Linda Taliaferro was elated with the concept of including a Negro League display in The Sinclair event space, and Thomas took the idea to her father. From there, Bugle Hall materialized.

Banks, known as the “Negro League Goodwill Ambassador,” is a vibrant baseball enthusiast who was largely responsible for the establishment of Bugle Hall. He was a pitcher and second baseman for Dunbar High School and
played in Unlimited and Double-A Fastpitch baseball leagues in his young adult years. Preserving Negro League history and legacy has long-been a matter of great importance for Banks. He looks forward to spreading Negro League knowledge to future visitors and patrons of Bugle Hall.

“I hope they are like a sponge. Stop, absorb as much history as possible,” said Banks, a co-founder of Hubert V. Simmons Museum. “The more they see and the more they’re going to observe, the more knowledge they can pass on to somebody else. That’s the whole key.”