Sept. 27, 1935 – Dec. 18, 2017
Raised by her grandparents, Mamie Johnson grew up in South Carolina throwing anything that could be thrown. She had a passion for sports and a drive that would take her out of the south all the way to the world stage. Though she was just over five feet tall and weighed less than your average Great Dane, Mamie chose to play the faster, tougher, game of baseball, played by the neighborhood boys, rather than softball, the game played by the girls.
After her grandparents passed, she moved north to New Jersey where she lived with an aunt and uncle. There, she joined both the neighborhood and church baseball teams as the only female and the only African American on either team.
Just before her eighteenth birthday, Maime traveled to Alexandria, Virginia to try out for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Though she was good enough to gain a spot on the team, and given that Major League Baseball was by then racially integrated, Maime wasn’t even allowed to try out, since the girl’s team was still all white.
Disappointed, she returned home, gaining a spot on the all-male St. Cyprian’s Catholic Church team in Washington, D.C. Her extreme talent and passion for the sport earned her the notice of a scout in the early 1950’s. By 1953, a year before Brown vs. The Board of Education and eleven years before the passage of the Civil Right Act, Ms. Johnson became one of, what would be, three African American Women to join the all-male Indianapolis Clowns, the Negro League team that launched the career of Hank Aaron. The team already had the first African American female, infielder Toni Stone, and later would be joined by Connie Morgan, but Mamie was the only female, African American pitcher of the entire Nego Leagues. Her reputation among the other male players was one of respect. It is said that Mamie was “good; no joke,” and that anyone who played against her would be “struck out.”
Though her career was a brief two years, (1953-1955), Mamie’s record was 33 wins with just eight losses. At the end of the 1955 season, Ms. Johnson returned Washington, D.C. to raise her young son, Charles, Jr.
Moving with her first husband, Charles Johnson, Sr., to North Carolina, Mamie attained a nursing degree from North Carolina University before taking a job at Sibley Memorial Hospital, a position she would keep for over three decades.
After her retirement, she moved to Maryland, where she helped her son, Charles run a memorabilia shop dedicated to the Nego Leagues. Through it all, she continued to coach baseball for neighborhood youth.
A trailblazer in her time, and field, Ms. Johnson received many accolades and awards, including, the Mary McLeod Bethune Continuing Award, and honors by President and First Lady Clinton as a female baseball legend.
In 2008, Mamie Johnson was among several still-living Negro League players to be drafted by the Major League franchises and was chosen by the Washington Nationals. In 2013, a baseball field in Rosedale, Washington D.C was named in her honor and later, a book titled, A Strong Right Arm, was written about her groundbreaking career with the Indianapolis Clowns.
Ms. Johnson passed away December 18, 2017, of a heart ailment, outliving her son by one year. She is survived by a half dozen step-children, her siblings, 19 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.