91-year-old reflects on era of racial tension, coronavirus in Milwaukee

Posted at 5:57 PM, Jun 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-18 18:57:32-04

MILWAUKEE — At age 91, James Beckum is reflecting upon an era of uncertainty while sitting at his northside home. He is following news of the MLB postponing their season, the coronavirus, and the rising racial tensions across the nation.

He's a community man with a park named after him and he says he remains committed to seeing Milwaukee make a strong comeback from this year of hardships.

After all, James W. Beckum Park is where he has watched the power that neighborly love can have in overcoming difficult times in Milwaukee for nearly six decades.

The former U.S. Marine who went on to become a baseball player, who would be later inducted into Yesterday's Negro Leauge Baseball Hall of Fame, is hopeful about Milwaukee's future, saying he is holding on to the same values he has been teaching young people for years.

"When we first started little league back in the 60s, that was a hardship for us because we didn't have the kind of money," said Beckum. In 1964, after serving in the U.S. Military during the Korean War, and playing for the East St. Louis Giants, Mr. Beckum moved to Milwaukee. Less than a year later, he started the Beckum-Stapleton Little League with a goal of keeping Milwaukee's kids off the streets.

"A lot of kids have come through, played ball and they have been successful from themselves," said Beckum.

More than 25,000 kids have been a part of his program since it began. Some of those kids grew up to become doctors, lawyers and teachers.

Today, his Little League teams are facing new challenges. The coronavirus is keeping his players off of the fields that Beckum has personally tended too for 58 years. That means his players are missing out on mentorships and exercise.

"Every time you turn around this virus is coming," said Beckum. "This has created a lot of problems and quite naturally we have got to try and overcome it. And, I think we can!"

While still holding on to hope that his Little League will be able to make a comeback this season, Beckum is also hopeful that Milwaukee will comeback strong following the hardships created by the coronavirus.

Beckum said that in tough times, like when he lost his son to gun violence in 1993, or when his wife of nearly six decades passed away in 2015, he has always been able to count on the community to step up and volunteer when they are needed.

"They've spent a lot of time coaching and training and getting these kids ready to participate in tournament play," said Beckum.

At the same time, Beckum has been following the news of George Floyd's death. He is aware of the protesting and marching taking place in Milwaukee and he has heard news about the riots and looting.

"I think they have a right to protest a guy to have his knee on his neck. That should not happen," said Beckum. I don't think the people that [are] setting up the protesting [are] doing any looting or violence. That's somebody else."

Beckum said looting and violence is not an effective way to protest racism.

Now, with coronavirus and racial tensions high, Mr. Beckum is hoping the same neighborly passion he has witnessed first-hand in the past will resurface.

"We are here to love one another, teach each other and try to help one another," said Beckum.

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