Opening Day Issue
The woman who replaced Hank Aaron
Telling the story of Toni Stone, first female Negro League player
Published: April 6, 2011
MT: Your book was written more than a decade after Stone died. Did this limit how far your research and writing could go?
Ackmann: That was a great sadness for me because she was such a wonderful storyteller and had such a great flair for language and knew what the good stories were. So no. I started long after she had passed away but one of the things I did was that I tried to find every single audio or video tape that I could possibly find both to hear the tenor and quality of Toni's voice but more importantly how she related things. I was lucky to find a lot because of the great and good generosity of men who belonged to the Society for American Baseball Research.
MT: If you could go back in time, what would you ask her?
Ackmann: I've never thought of that before. I would dearly love to sit with her in that beautiful little Victorian home that she had in Oakland, Calif. I think I would try to get at what kept her going in the face of such opposition. How did she manage to continue to pursue what she loved most, what was the fire in the belly that really kept her going? I'm always interested in those questions about persistence.
MT: Who do you think the audience is for a book about a women playing in the Negro Leagues?
Ackmann: I feel like I'm always in my books writing stories about social change in America, and about, in particular, how women have faced inequity especially when they have a very uncommon dream. I tried to tell that story in a way that's going to be interesting, I hope, to a broad audience so they learn something about American women's history, they learn something about sports, but I hope they also learn something about the struggles for equal rights in our country.
MT: So you chose the texture and context of the civil rights movement to be part of Toni Stone's story.
Ackmann: She's bucking the system. She's refusing to be silenced. She's refusing to be put down in the early 1950s, before Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on the bus. I see her as a part of that continuum of making a way for the civil rights movement to come.
MT: Would she have described herself as a civil rights heroine?
Ackmann: No, she wouldn't have. I think it's a great tragedy that in the late '50s and early '60s that she couldn't quite see what she had done as part of this larger fabric.
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