As Black History Month filters into the finish line, memories turn back to Black History Day that inspired and motivated many.
Thirteen people served on the committee for Andre Thornton Day, Sept. 16, 1982, and many of them discussed and planned events from 318 Bridge St., "The Printing Post," which today is 2 by 4 Antiques and Collectibles.
Thornton's story was not just that of a black man who became a baseball player for the Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians and the Montreal Expos, but his tale is comprised of heartbreak, a mother's faith and talent.
The day was ambitious, and consisted of a Phoenixville Area High School Assembly Program at 1:30 p.m., a program at Main Street Park (Andre Thornton Park) at 4 p.m. and a dinner program at the Phoenix No. 1 Fire Station on Church Street at 6 p.m.
The program book, which ticket purchasers for the dinner received, tells a little story of its own. The Pottstown Mercury supporters ad stated, "We are pleased to be a part of Phoenixville's Andre Thornton Day. Congratulations to one of the area's finest athletes."
McCarraher's Furniture Store, 15 Gay St., stated, "We are proud of you, Andre."
A one time Fifth Ward Councilwoman, Helen Rambo stated, "In our hometown we're proud because Andre Thornton is one of us."
The Evening Phoenix revealed, "Our Congratulations to a Former Employee!"
Yes, though Black History Month was established February 1976, 1982 celebrated it in a specific way for a day.
At the high school assembly held outdoors, Thornton's former Little League coach, Nebs Griffith (now deceased), wandered out from the bleachers onto the field at an inappropriate moment due to a bout of Alzheimer's and Thornton walked out, put his arm around Griffith and guided him back lovingly.
Main Street Park saw the Phoenixville Area High School Band playing the National Anthem. Thornton issued autographs graciously. Lillian Thomas sang, "Just a Closer Walk with Thee," and some tears surfaced from fans because of her rendition.
The dinner program got to me! When Thornton spoke of his gratitude, emotion flowed in tears, but his voice was as steady and calm as an autumn leaf floating silently from an oak tree.
After I recited a poem, Thornton came off the podium and gave me the warmest handshake and smile I've ever received. He didn't say a word.
Committee member, Thomas, has a precious memory of that day. She said, "That was a great day for me. My grandmother, Beatrice Winston, was sick in the Phoenixville Hospital. Thornton took time out of his busy day and visited her. They took a picture of that event in The Evening Phoenix. He was a humble man." Thomas works today at the Medical Office Building.
Don Coppedge, civic leader and committee member, spokesman for many local events, made his contribution. He said, "Andre Thornton Day brought Phoenixville together as a community to honor a native son who has brought nothing but fame and fortune to Phoenixville not because he became a star baseball player, but he illustrated that Phoenixville's diversity was alive and well. That's what makes Phoenixville such a unique community.
"There was a time when the North Side of the borough was being put down, and here's a man from the North Side who made a name for himself, which shows it doesn't matter where you live."
I was on the committee, wrote the Andre Thornton History for the program book and was embarrassed to win a door prize: an autographed league ball from Thornton's current team. I gave it to the late Joe Dougherty, former mayor of Phoenixville, who was not on the committee, but donated his time to creating and donating tickets for the packed audience at the dinner. Thornton lives in Ohio today, encouraging and supporting youth.
If you want to read the story of Thornton's life in the 1982 program, call Keystone Connie at 610 933-0669. With Valentine love.