Frank Brim, 63, is the co-founder of the Garfield Park Park Little League and current director of baseball operations for the BASE Chicago, a youth baseball league on the West Side. The Austin resident recently talked about the moment when, as a teenager, he learned that both of his grandparents were lynched in Mississippi.
The knowledge, he said, was almost his undoing. This is the first part of a multi-part West Side Lives interview with Brim.
We teach our kids, if you can’t take care of your school work, that means you can’t get on the field. If you can’t get on the field, you’re a waste to the recruit. Your grades, your GPA, your reputation in school, all that means something. I didn’t know that. I had people telling me I would play Major League Baseball from the time I was 10 years old, but I did nothing in high school. Well, I shouldn’t say that.
On why he rebelled in high school
In 1945, my grandmother and grandfather were hung in Mississippi and I didn’t find out until my freshman or sophomore year of high school. The Klan hung my grandmother and grandfather and they blamed it on my grandfather, saying he hung his wife and then he hung himself — with his hands tied behind his back he hung himself.
When I learned that, I wanted nothing to do with white people. I didn’t want any white teachers, I rebelled against the system. I said, ‘Look, if the white man is teaching it, I don’t want anything to do with that.’ I was really, really, really angry. It affected me academically. It got to the point where I didn’t even want to be in the same room with white people.
That was in 1975. And since 1975, what happens is, I had white teammates who became my brothers. And it became, ‘Well, not all white people are bad. This dude is a ride-or-die friend.’ And then when I got in the fire department, I had some people who clearly didn’t want me there, but there were some white guys who were like family to me. We became real friends. And so, the idea that I don’t want to have anything to do with white people kind of diminished and it became people are people.
But I went through a period where I was immobilized by that information [learning about his grandparents’ lynching]. I knew why my father kept it from me. It’s helped shape me. I have a white friend, a commercial real estate developer, he’s a good dude. We sit down and have real conversations. He wants his kids from Glen Ellyn to sit down and talk, so they can have that understanding of what Black people went through in this country.
But it’s very seldom appropriate for me to tell that story, though. What will I say? ‘Well, let me tell you my story. My grandmother and grandfather were hung and they blamed my grandfather for doing it and swept it under the rug. I never got a chance to meet them.’
On the information’s impact on his father
It destroyed my father. It destroyed him and his brothers and sister. They moved up here to get away from that South and when my father got here, he was so paranoid, but I understand his paranoia now.
If we were going on a vacation or something, or going back down to Mississippi, he would put tape across the door to make sure nobody came into the house. He would tell us, ‘You looking at that television. That television is looking at you.’ So, I started thinking my daddy was crazy, but no, he was responding to the issues of his past.
He joined the Nation of Islam when he got here. He was on Elijah Muhammad’s security team, because he had a sense of power and he was attracted to the unity the Muslims offered. My father could have written a book. He went through a lot.
He was out of my life for a lot of years, but he taught me baseball and we were connected that way.