Local group working to get headstones for unmarked graves of Pittsburgh Negro League players

ALLEGHENY COUNTY, Pa. — Back in the 1930s, Pittsburgh was known as the “mecca” for baseball’s Negro League.

We were the only city in the country to have two professional teams — the Crawfords and the Homestead Grays.

So many players lived out their lives here, and now are buried here, but their graves are unmarked. But a local teacher is working to change that and get these stars the recognition they deserve.

Over the last few years, Insight Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School teacher Vince Ciaramella has spent hours in cemeteries around Allegheny County, looking for the unseen.

“Sadly, their names have been forgotten and if their family doesn’t come here and pop a stone on here, they’re lost to history,” said Ciaramella.

That’s why he is documenting where local Negro League players are buried and is now trying to get them all headstones.

“I wanted to drill down a little deeper and find the guys that didn’t get the recognition and accolades that they deserved,” Ciaramella said.

Like Charles “Lefty” Williams.

He pitched for the Homestead Grays for practically his entire career from 1921 to 1935. But walking through Homestead Cemetery, you wouldn’t know it, because he doesn’t have a grave marker.

“Most of the times, economics circumstances with the families, maybe not being able to afford a marker at the time, which is the case with some of these Negro League players,” said JaQuay Carter, Historian and board member of Homestead Cemetery.

Carter would like to see players like Williams have the same recognition as other Homestead Grays.

Another player buried there is Cumberland Posey, Jr. who went by Cum Posey — Baseball Hall of Famer and eventual owner of the team.

“They really faced a lot of adversity, they had to form their own separate league, not being admitted into the major leagues,” Carter said. “So it is really nice in this day and age to honor them, decades later, but they really paved the way for so much.”

Our reporter asked: “How do you know that they’re buried there, if it’s unmarked?” It starts with doing some research on gravesite websites.

“You cross reference. I found his death certificate. So, I was able to see he was buried at homestead cemetery,” said Ciaramella. “And that’s where the boots on the ground part of it comes in you come here, start walking around trying to find where section 3 is.”

Vince has gotten a lot of help from people at cemeteries, like J. Carter, and by his count, he’s found between 30 and 40 unmarked Negro League players’ graves at several cemeteries in Allegheny County. Now, he’s working with the Josh Gibson Foundation and the Negro Leagues Baseball Grave Marker Project to mark them all.

“They had been marginalized in life and sadly they were forgotten in death and so for me, this is a great opportunity to bring their story to the limelight,” Ciaramella said.

They’re just in the fundraising phase right now, and it will be up to the owner of the plot — whether that be family or the cemetery — to decide to place a headstone.

If you would like to donate to the Negro League Grave Markers, click here.

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