Its 1929 and fourteen black teenage boys from South Cairo Missouri leave town to join the Negro Baseball League. Two of these boys are Obie Poole and Madewell Brown. The team travels throughout the United States and one day in El Paso Texas Madewell walks off the field and disappears. Some years later Obie now an old man is home again in South Cairo living alone. A young girl from the South Cairo Home appears in Obies yard. Her name is Rachel. A friendship begins that lasts until Obies death. Meanwhile in Guadalupe New Mexico another old man named Rufino is also living alone. He has no friends. Obie and Rufino die within weeks of each other and when Rufinos son Cipriano finds a canvas bag with the name Madewell Brown on it he opens it to find ancient cans of Spam old clothes and a photograph of the South Cairo Grays. He also finds a letter bearing a three-cent stamp addressed to Obie. He adds a stamp and drops the letter in the mail. When Rachel now an adult cleans out Obies house she finds a box filled with paper on which Obie has written his memories: This is to be a true story of the game of baseball and of the men I knew who played. She opens Obies mailbox to find the old letter from Madewell Brown which has arrived fifty years too late. Rachel drives to Guadalupe to find out what happened to this man who may be her grandfather.
Cairo (pronounced Kay-ro) Illinois is an old town set at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. It wasn’t a good place for African Americans to live during the Jim Crow years. In 1969 a civil rights movement boycott shut the town down and things are not good even in the 1980s where part of the novel is set.
Madewell Brown is the fourth novel in a series by Rick Collignon who lives in northern New Mexico. Readers who are persistent and pay attention to the narrative will be drawn to Collignons use of detail and may be able to follow all the time changes.