James Leonard Mitchell

James Leonard Mitchell (1895-1969) was born in Hopkins County, KY to Lewis and Lovey (Metcalfe) Mitchell. Lewis and Leonard both worked as coal miners. Enlisting April of 1918, Leonard was a private in the US Army during World War I. In the 1920s, Leonard began playing baseball with the Negro Leagues. There aren’t many records on his career, but he did play for the Louisville Mohawks and the Louisville White Sox. As one of the organizers of the Louisville Black Colonels in 1939, Leonard was an integral part of Negro League baseball at all levels, including promotion. He also owned and managed the Louisville Black Caps and the Original Zulu Cannibal Giants. On May 22, 1948, he married Irene L. Layer (1907-1977), a white woman from Elizabeth, IN. Leonard and Irene were married in Chicago where interracial marriage had been legal since 1874. It would not be legal across the US until 1967. Irene was the daughter of Frederick and Hester (Brock) Layer. Leonard and Irene had one daughter, Delores. In the 1950s and 1960s, Leonard worked as a painter and lived with his family at 1721 Hale Avenue in the California Neighborhood. Leonard died on November 11, 1969. He was buried in Section B, Row C, Grave D of Eastern Cemetery. Irene died on July 27, 1977 and was buried in Section B, Row 4, Grave F of Eastern Cemetery.

So passionate about baseball, Leonard amassed a massive collection of Negro League memorabilia. In 2009, Delores took the collection to the Louisville Slugger Museum for advice. The collection garnered national attention and went to auction. In an interview about the auction Dolores stated, “As a kid, I can remember him being glued to the TV in baseball season. It was like the TV was an extension of his right arm. He loved baseball. He ate, slept, walked, talked, read baseball. In his own quiet way, I think he knew he was part of opening doors that led to other people getting a chance to play.” Photo of older Leonard is from the “Courier-Journal” article March 6, 2009. Photo of Leonard in his Mohawks uniform is from Love of the Game Auctions.

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