Our Projects - Past & Future
Our Projects - Past & Future
Judy Johnson Monument
By C. Newton Weaver, September 2018
In 2018, the Historical Society began it's work to memorialize the birthplace of one of baseball's greatest players who was born in Snow Hill, Maryland. Virtually unknown to the general population of Snow Hill, the Historical Society would like to recognize his accomplishments and erect a monument in his honor. Locations are currently being pursued.
Quick hands, natural counter-punching ability whose accuracy was unmatched at the local boxing club. He would almost glide in graceful movements dancing across the ring’s canvas. All the trademarks not only of a savvy club boxer but also the necessary skills for a regional champion and possible prize fighter. Those praising sentiments for such a young athlete were frequently echoed by assistant trainers, coaches and fellow pugilists. Yet something was missing: the heart. William Julius Johnson’s desires lay elsewhere.
He was born on October 26, 1899 in Snow Hill, Maryland, the middle child of William Henry Johnson and Annie (Lee) Johnson joining Johnny Jr. and sister Mary Emma. His sister would often substitute as his sparring partner when other fighters were drained or injured. His father was a sailor, farmer and licensed boxing coach often spending time with his young son in the ring.
When Julius was six years old the family moved to Wilmington, Delaware
where his father worked as a master carpenter/shipbuilder and newly appointed athletic director of the Negro Settlement House. During this period, young Julius continued his training as a boxer being mentored by his father. However, something sparked inside Julius when he once served as a bat boy for his father’s baseball team the Royal Blues. He now yearned to be a professional baseball player…not just someone taking up space sitting on a dugout bench.
During his play in the Negro Leagues from 1923-1937, Julius (now referred to as “Judy” after Negro League player Judy Gans) received numerous accolades and awards for his brilliance on the ball field. Owner Connie Mack of the Philadelphia “A’s” once retorted after witnessing Judy in the field . . . that if Judy played in the Major Leagues there would not be enough money to pay him. Former Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn compared Judy to the perennial all-star and Hall of Fame member Brooks Robinson.
From 1923-25 Johnson was instrumental in leading his team the Philadelphia Hilldales to three consecutive pennants. Johnson was often referred to as captain on the field for the Hilldales from 1923-29.
During this period he acquired several nicknames: “Mr. Sunshine” referring to the years he played winter ball in Cuban; “Sure Hands” alluding to his uncanny ability to field bunted balls barehanded; “Sweet Stick” giving indication as to his skill in clutch hitting with two outs and men in scoring position. Experienced players would often tell younger players on op-posing teams not to bunt on Judy.
He played in the first Negro League World Series in 1924 leading all batters with a .364 average with 16 hits including six doubles, a triple and a home run. His slugging average was .614. Unfortunately his Hilldales lost to the powerful Kansas City Monarchs. However in 1925 he batted .392 for the season and helped led his team (Hilldales) over the same Kansas City Monarchs . . . taking the World Series. In 1929, Judy batted over .400 and was named Negro League’s Most Valuable Player.
To keep in shape and improve his game, Johnson played winter ball in Cuba for 6 seasons hitting a solid .334. Despite the harsh treatment of daily insults hurled in his direction, blatant discrimination and the rigors of Jim Crow regulations, he was constantly smiling knowing that he loved playing ball in the sun and that the sun was always shining somewhere.
In addition to being a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and museum in Cooperstown, NY., Johnson also belongs to three other hall of fames; Delaware Sports Hall of Fame in Wilmington, DE.; Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame; and the Eastern Shore Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Salisbury, MD.