BASN Negro League Spotlight: Legacy Of A Monarch

By Tony McClean
Updated: June 2, 2005

Legacy of Monarchs book coverNEW HAVEN, Ct. — They say that every person, no matter how significant or not, has a story. For ex-Negro Leaguer Byron “Mex” Johnson, his story is truly an interesting and fascinating one to tell.

Johnson was a standout shortstop for the Kansas City Monarchs and the Satchel Paige All-Stars from 1937 to 1940. The native of Little Rock, Arkansas was also a member of the Negro League East-West All-Star team in 1938.

While his path is similar to many of the men who toiled in the Negro Leagues, the entire story of Mr. Johnson’s life is much more about the game of baseball.

In a new book by Jadan Publishing Company, “Legacy Of A Monarch: An American Journey” by Jan Sumner offers a history not only of a black baseball player, but of an African American’s journey through American history.

Johnson, like many African Americans, was the grandson of a slave who overcame several obstacles during his life. But it was his devotion to excellence on and off the field that makes Mr. Johnson’s story important.

During his playing career, Johnson rubbed elbows with some of the greatest baseball players in the world. Among some of his teammates and acquaintances were Turkey Stearns, Buck O’Neil, Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe, and Hall of Famer Satchel Paige.

Ironically, Johnson had turned down a previous offer to play professional baseball while playing in high school.

Johnson received his college degree at Wiley College in 1936 during a time when many institutions of higher education were closed to blacks. Johnson also teamed with another future Monarch, Andrew “Pat” Patterson on the football field at Wiley as well.

During the baseball off seasons, Johnson served as a teacher in his native Arkansas. His position made be looked upon as a pioneer in the black community. Unfortunately, Johnson’s dedication to education and civil rights would be severely tested.

Johnson would witness first hand one of the more defining moments of this country’s scarred history of education and race relations.

After serving in World War II, Johnson would be forced to move his family to Colorado in 1958, one year after his niece, Carlotta Walls, received death threats when she helped integrate Little Rock Central High School.

The book includes forewords from President Bill Clinton, another Arkansas native, and current major league coach Don Baylor. The former manager of the Colorado Rockies and Chicago Cubs give a moving tribute to the contributions of Johnson and the Negro League players of the past.

“As a major league baseball player from the generation of the 1970s, and as a major league manager of the 21st century, the Negro Leagues’ history and ballplayers have inspired me throughout my career”, Baylor said.

“I am filled with pride at their enduring, even while recognition of the significance of their efforts has been a “long time coming.” Their contribution to the modern game has been too often overlooked and undervalued”.

“Legacy Of A Monarch” is just another great story of how the men of the Negro Leagues were more than just ballplayers. Johnson’s inspiring story is a testament to the lasting legacy of these pioneers.