Chuck Harmon, Who Blazed A Trail For African-Americans On The Reds, Dies At 94

Mar 20, 2019

Seven years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, a 29-year-old utility player from Indiana named Chuck Harmon became the first African-American to play for the Cincinnati Reds.

And, although his career in the big leagues was short and devoid of gaudy numbers, Harmon remained a beloved figure in Cincinnati for over 60 years, settling here after his playing days to raise his family.

Harmon's long journey ended early Tuesday morning when he passed away at his Golf Manor home. He was 94 years old.

It was the end of a journey from his birthplace in Washington, Ind., to a brief stint with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues to April 17, 1954, when he became the first black man to appear in a Cincinnati Reds game.

The extent to which he was beloved in the community was obvious from the fact that the Golf Manor street where he raised his family was re-named Chuck Harmon Way some years ago.

And just a few blocks from his home, at the P&G MLB Cincinnati Reds Youth Academy, a statue of Harmon stands outside the complex. The young people who are served by the Youth Academy are all well-schooled in the story of this pioneer for African-Americans striving for major league success.

His time with the Reds was short, by major league standards. He was here as a utility man and pinch hitter in 1954 and 1955, and part of the 1956 season before being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. He ended his career with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1957.

Harmon had a lifetime batting average of .238 and a total of seven home runs in his career, all with the Reds.

He returned to Cincinnati and went to work first as a scout for the Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves in baseball and for the Indiana Pacers in professional basketball.

He went to work in the 1970s for then-Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Robert Jennings as the deputy clerk in charge of the Ohio First District Court of Appeals.

Joe Deters, now the Hamilton County prosecutor, took over the clerk's office from Jennings in the 1980s. He said he had appeals court judges calling him asking him to keep Harmon on board.

"He was loved by everyone, and I mean everyone,'' Deters said. "And if you have judges asking you to keep somebody, you do it. They wanted Chuck to be there."

Karl Kadon, now an assistant U.S. attorney, has known Harmon since Kadon was a deputy city solicitor in the 1980s.

"This is a man who was so unfailingly kind to everyone,'' Kadon said. "Everybody did love him. I never once heard a person speak an ill word of him or him speak ill of another person.

"Chuck was calm, serene, generous,'' Kadon said. "A most unassuming man. A man who did not have to go around saying he had made history."

Deters said that, in one sense, Harmon was a pioneer for African-Americans twice in his life – first in baseball and later in the Hamilton County Courthouse.

"You know, back in 1987, '88, the courthouse was not the most diverse place,'' Deters said. "Chuck was a pioneer in the court system, too. He was a trailblazer for others. A really remarkable man."