On Feb. 13, 2020, Negro League Baseball marked the 100th anniversary of its establishment in Kansas City, Missouri. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, which features memorabilia and the archives of its signature team, the Kansas City Monarchs, held a special tribute event to celebrate the occasion.
Ford’s Kansas City Assembly Plant shares in the city’s deep pride, as a founding member of Negro League Baseball and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum board was one of its very own. Alfred “Slick” Surratt hired in to the plant on Valentine’s Day in 1951 and served 51 years in the skilled trades program as a welder. Prior to that, his signature skill was that of an outstanding outfielder and base stealer in Negro League Baseball.
“Finding out about a legendary person like Slick was certainly an all-encompassing effort to blend the fabric of what makes us One Ford,” said Derrison Palea, supervisor, Transit paint, and a member of the Ford African-Ancestry Network at KCAP. “Oftentimes, when we are looking for historical figures, we don’t look at our neighbor right next to us or those who walked in our very footsteps. So I got to thinking, and I knew there were some important folks around here. On the suggestion of another UAW member, Garrett Waters, it surfaced.”
Slick earned his nickname on the basis of his natural propensity to steal bases while playing for the Detroit Stars, the Nine-Mile Road Tigers then later the Kansas City Monarchs. In an era of racial division, Slick relied on his talent, commitment and perseverance to break social barriers. Other Kansas City Monarchs who worked at the UAW-Ford plant included Connie Johnson, Jim “Lefty” LaMarque, Ulysses Hollimon and Herman “Doc” Horn.
“Slick didn’t hire in here originally to come work an automotive job,” said Dennis Garrison, site representative for Ford Land. “Back in the day, many companies had their own baseball team. That is what we did for entertainment, so Slick was brought on for the baseball team. I used to be his boss. He would sit in my office and tell me stories about when he played for the Monarchs, and how when they would travel to games, he would have to use a separate entrance to a building. He would tell me about how the team would have to stay outdoors and have the kitchen staff bring food out to the bus. He always tried to paint me a picture of how things were in his daily life.”
Sam Campbell, a facilities coordinator in material planning and logistics at the plant, knew Slick too. “He was here when I came aboard in 1978 and he was here when I left in 1996,” said Campbell. “He always struck me as a happy individual – always willing to tell you a story. Every shift, he would check his portable welding machine so that it was always ready to tend to the next call.”
John Lowe, a UAW quality liaison, was Slick’s UAW committeeman. “He was a personal friend of mine,” said Lowe. “I’d hear his stories all the time. He was a phenomenal guy and a joy to know all the way around. He was generous and kind – even paying lunch debts for children in need and helping to send several to college.”
Slick worked hard as a welder and took great pride in his tools. [CR2] From the day he hired in until the day he retired, he used the exact same tools, said Russ Taylor, a welder in Transit. “One day, I asked him if I could have his tools when he left and he told me no, that he planned to take them with him,” said Taylor. “Aside from all the adversity he dealt with, he had such a positive outlook on life – it was truly amazing. He was such a nice fellow, a goodhearted individual who would have given you the shirt off his back. I feel privileged to have known someone who made such an impact on our history and our country – from his contributions not only to baseball, but also in helping to build the automotive industry up. He played a part in helping to create a middle class and lift up society.”
Slick Surratt passed away in 2010 at age 87, leaving behind his wife Tommie and his only son, Alfred Surratt Jr. His legacy, both as a founding member of Negro League Baseball and as a Ford welder with a strong work ethic, is one that everyone at Kansas City Assembly Plant is proud of. “His perseverance was remarkable,” said Taylor. “I know he was proud to be a part of all of it.”
Palea points out that there are everyday people around us who worked to make significant contributions to our history. “Slick is a shining example of someone who sought out the possibilities to pave a way for creating tomorrow, together, today,” he said.