Six Square is the nexus of thriving Black arts and culture in Central East Austin. We re-animate cultural spaces, connect community, and honor the past, present, and future of Austin’s Black Cultural District.
Downs Field has been synonymous with baseball and the African American Community of East Austin since at least the 1940s. It was once the home of the Austin Black Senators, part of the Texas Negro League, which was a minor league to the national Negro League. It is also the athletic field for the historically black Samuel Huston College, now part of Huston-Tillotson University, and it is named for a former president of the college, Rev. Karl Downs. Baseball legends including Satchel Paige, Smokey Joe Williams, Buck O’Neil and Austin native Willie Wells all played on this field, which also has a special connection to Jackie Robinson.
While Robinson was serving in the Army at Fort Hood, he often visited Rev. Downs, who had been his pastor while Robinson was a college athlete in California. In 1944, Robinson was traveling on an Army-commissioned bus when he was ordered by the driver to sit in the back, and refused. Although the bus was officially non-segregated, Robinson was detained by military police, and when he responded angrily, he was court-marshaled. He was acquitted, but left the Army, and Rev. Downs offered him a job as athletic director and basketball coach at Huston College.
Only a few years later, the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers offered Robinson an opportunity to join a major league baseball team, with a condition— he had to promise not to respond angrily to any of the racial abuse that would be directed at him as the first black man to do so. Robinson agreed to “turn the other cheek,” and broke the color barrier on April 15, 1947, in the first game of a spectacular major league career that would earn him a place in the Hall of Fame.
On “Jackie Robinson Day”, April 15, 2015, community groups announced plans to revitalize the historic field along with adjoining Mabson Field. That project, now complete, included the installation of large paintings depicting baseball legends. In addition to some of the names mentioned above, they include Toni “Tomboy” Stone, who became the first woman to play baseball professionally in any league when she joined the Negro League in 1953. Mabson Field is home to several local youth and little league teams.