Byron "Mex" Johnson was an anchor in the Denver Park Hill community that began in 1958. He was born in Little Rock, Arkansas on September 19, 1911, and became an outstanding shortstop for the Kansas City Monarchs Negro League Baseball team in 1937 and 1938 and, with the traveling team of famed pitcher Satchel Paige All-Stars in 1939 and 1940.
The Kansas City Monarchs was one of the longest running franchises in Negro League history. The Monarch Club was formed in 1920 by J.L. Wilkinson. During the 1920s the Monarchs won four National Negro League (NNL) pennants and in 1924 defeated the Hilldale Club in the first Negro Baseball World Series. During the Great Depression, the Monarchs continued to enjoy a reasonable measure of financial success. In their heyday, the Monarchs became the darlings of the Negro League and were often cited as the "answer to the New York Yankees." Johnson was described by Greg Abdur-Rasheed and Arthur Rosenblum in The Greater Park Hill Community newspaper article, as the "strong throwing, scrappy shortstop on the Monarchs."
Before Johnson pursued his love of baseball he attended college, where he majored in science with a minor in math. After graduation from Wiley College in Texas, he returned to Arkansas and played semi-professional baseball in 1932 for the Little Rock Stars. He realized that professional baseball didn't offer a financially rewarding future for his family, so he briefly taught biology at Dunbar High School in Little Rock. While teaching he accepted a tryout offer from the Kansas City Monarchs in 1937; the rest is history.
According to Abdur-Rasheed and Rosenblum, "When Bryon, a nice kid, joined the Kansas Monarchs he was exposed to the rough and gritty style of top flight professional baseball players." "Some of the very best who ever played the game," is how Johnson described the Negro League players whom he played with and against, to Abdur-Rasheed and Rosenblum.
Some of African Americans best baseball players who also wore the Monarchs' uniform, included Cool Papa Bell, Turkey Stearnes, Newt Allen, Jesse Williams, Bonnie Serrell, Wilber Rogan and, Hall of Famer and traveling ambassador for the Negro Baseball Leagues, John "Skip" Buck O'Neil.
The Monarchs were also responsible for sending the most African American players into Major League Baseball after the color-barrier was broken. Some of those elite players were Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige, Ernie Banks, Elston Howard, Hank Thompson and Willard "Home Run" Brown.
During World War II Johnson served in the U.S. Army and went overseas to fight for this country. He also worked for the U.S. Postal Service in Denver. He became the first African American in Denver to sue the Postal Service on charges of discrimination.
Byron "Mex" Johnson died on September 24, 2005 in Denver. He was also the uncle of Carlotta Walls LaNier, one of the Little Rock Nine African American high school students, who integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas during the Civil Rights Movement. His legacy also includes the establishment of the Christine and Byron Johnson Memorial Lecture Series, created in honor of his wife Christine of 61 years. The Lecture series focused on topics of race and acceptance in America. These lectures, held at Park Hill United Methodist Church, drew people from around Denver and surrounding communities.
Byron "Mex" Johnson's manuscript collection (MSS ARL41) contains family photographs and early photographs of Johnson as a football and baseball player, a Famous People Interview with Byron Johnson and, a military photograph and newspaper clippings.
The Kansas City Monarchs: Champion of Black Baseball by Janet Bruce, for a 35-year span of black basketball, 1920 to mid-1950. A book in the Blair-Caldwell AARL non-circulating research collection, published 1985, call number: 798.35764 BRUCE K.
For Early Baseball History - go to http://www.sabr.org.
For History of Negro Major Leagues by Todd Bolton, NLBPA Historian - go to http://www.nlbpa.com/negro-league-history.