Love and Baseball

Pitch Black Describes Baseball And Much More

Christine Turner Jackson

Growing up in southeast DC, Christine Turner Jackson enjoyed the stable family life that had eluded her father. Benjamin Turner’s experiences are common for all too many DC kids--fractured family relationships, rivalries among peers, moving often, adjusting to new households, schools and neighborhoods. 

Yet Benjamin Turner succeeded. The reason why is detailed in his daughter’s self-published Young Adult novel, Pitch Black, which describes DC in the early 1950s when Major League Baseball had just integrated and segregation in DC was approaching its end.  Many teens can identify with the problems facing Benjamin, but older Washingtonians may find Pitch Black worth reading because it recalls mid-20th Century DC life. 

A Family Affair

Sitting in a Benning Road restaurant on a Saturday morning, Jackson is enthusiastic when talking about her family and her book.  Benjamin Turner is present too. 

Watching her father play softball was a constant in Christine’s youth. Benjamin worked as a forensic nurse at Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital.  When studying nursing, he met his wife and Jackson’s mother, Hattie, later an employee at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. 

Jackson says her family life was “stable.” They were one of the first African American families to move into their neighborhood and her mother and father, married 51   years, remain there. 

Active parents, however, were lacking in young Benjamin’s life while growing up on a street that was located on what is now a Nationals Stadium parking lot. Back then, as Jackson writes in Pitch Black, Southwest ranked among DC’s most hard-scrabble neighborhoods. 

An important message in Jackson’s book is that, despite both parents missing from young Benjamin’s life, his grandfather and uncles provided guidance and love. 

Benjamin’s grandfather, a good baseball player when young, is aging but has an affectionate relationship with his grandson in part due to their shared love of baseball.  “Unc,” one of Benjamin’s uncles (based on the living Benjamin’s uncle, Winston Turner, a respected DC educator who served a term in the 1970s as president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals) emphasizes the importance of academics. Uncle Bump,  a fictional former Negro League baseball player, younger and more relaxed than Unc, also helps Benjamin to mature. (Uncle Bump was based on the real-life Benjamin’s uncle, Lloyd Turner, a semi-pro ballplayer.)

Uncertainty confronts Benjamin throughout Pitch Black as he confronts problems ranging from racism to obnoxious rival players. Not every event described in Pitch Black matches actual occurrences in her father’s life since the book is fiction, but Jackson strives to capture the feel of the times. 

The real-life Benjamin was a notable baseball player for Cardozo High School, and his 1953 Purple Wave yearbook entry lists his ambition to be a “baseball player.” Indeed, a story published in the June 3, 1952 Washington Afro-American, his junior year, describing Cardozo’s 1-0 victory over Dunbar credits “the diminutive righthander” for firing a “sinker” that “gave Dunbar considerable trouble throughout the contest.” 

A professional baseball career never developed for the real-life Benjamin, but he did go on to serve in the Navy, where he did play baseball, and, together with his wife, provide an orderly family life for his daughter. 

The Story Behind The Story

“Perseverance” and “persistence” define how the real-life and fictionalized Benjamins overcome their troubles. But that description also describes the qualities Jackson drew upon in writing and publishing Pitch Black.

Jackson’s interest in writing started as a young child and as a student at George Washington University she took a class in children’s literature. Then, while working as a senior risk consultant at the US Department of Education, she took a correspondence course in writing. Pitch Black was her writing project. The writing proved to be slow, chapter by chapter, but eventually she finished. 

Keeping in mind the problems of reluctant readers, Turner wrote Pitch Black at a sixth grade reading level. 

Tanya Callender, Learning Center Director for the US Dream Academy, which serves Baltimore’s high poverty Park Heights neighborhood, had children read Pitch Black  and then discuss it. They identified with how Benjamin persevered despite facing obstacles similar to theirs. 

Next Up

Since the book’s publication last spring, Jackson has been marketing Pitch Black as much as she can given the demands of her day job. 

Benjamin lets his daughter take centerstage during the interview. He is a quiet man unless talking baseball. Remarking about her interviews with him, Jackson says, “The little bit that I was able to get, I got a lot out of it.” 

So much so that she is already considering more books including a sequel to Pitch Black. Stay tuned.... 

Stephen Lilienthal is a freelance writer. Pitch Black is available through online booksellers and Jackson’s website: pitch-black.info/. It will soon be available through the DC Public Library.