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Spokane Indians launch new campaign to honor Carl Maxey

Morgan Maxey, Carl's grandson, throws out the ceremonial first pitch at King Carl Night, April 19. Spokane Indians players Kyle Karros, Chase Dollander and (left to right) look on.
James Snook
Morgan Maxey, Carl's grandson, throws out the ceremonial first pitch at King Carl Night, April 19. Spokane Indians players Kyle Karros, Chase Dollander and Parker Kelly (left to right) look on.

When the Spokane Indians took the field at Avista Stadium April 19th, players were not wearing the familiar cream-colored uniforms and red caps designated for home games. Instead, they wore black caps adorned by an embroidered red boxing glove, and bold red jerseys with the words “King Carl” in gold lettering arched across the chest.

Indians Vice President Otto Klein said the difference is meant to stir fans’ curiosity and lead to a deeper story.

“They’ll see the red jerseys, they’ll notice that they’re not the Spokane Indians tonight – hey, what’s the King Carl?” Klein said.

King Carl is Carl Maxey. Born in Tacoma 100 years ago, Maxey came to Spokane in childhood. He was a champion boxer and standout student in high school and college. He served as an army medic in World War II, and earned his law degree from Gonzaga in 1951. Maxey was the first Black person to graduate from Gonzaga’s law school and to practice in Spokane. The “King Carl” nickname came during his legal career, which was defined by success in the courtroom and advocacy for social justice.

A plan to honor Maxey on the baseball diamond began percolating in the spring of 2022, when late civil rights leader Sandy Williams and team executives hatched the initial idea. Klein said celebrating Maxey made good sense.

“We really are the community’s baseball team, and that means a lot to us,” Klein said. “So when we do these community campaigns, we want them to have more depth. We want them to really be about something special. And the more that we talked about Carl, the more special it became.”

The team turned to a San Diego company called Brandiose, which creates uniform and merchandise designs for the Indians and many other minor league baseball teams around the country. Brandiose co-founder Jason Klein – no relation to Otto – was the point man.

“We thought, there’s got to be a lot of ways that we can really create a symbol of not only Carl and his contributions to boxing and the Spokane community, but really put a lot of different Easter eggs into the logo, so every time you see it you discover something new,” he said.

The centerpiece of the logo is a red boxing glove topped by a gold crown, the visual translation of the “King Carl” nickname. A golden tassel hangs from the crown, symbolizing Maxey’s academic career. Baseball stitching and a feather nod to the Spokane Indians. And the curve and overlap of the glove’s laces resemble C and M, Maxey’s initials.

Morgan Maxey, Carl’s grandson, said Otto Klein brought the family into the planning process. He became convinced of the team’s sincerity and willingness to get it right. And when the final renderings came in, he liked what he saw.

“I think they did a really good job of getting everything that we wanted in there embodied,” Maxey said. “And we had a lot of discussions prior to the design being released, prior to us seeing it, but once I saw it, I was impressed.”

The campaign to honor Maxey goes beyond special uniforms and caps. Indians fans can scan QR codes printed in the team’s programs to learn more about Maxey. And a portion of merchandise sales will go into a new fund at the Carl Maxey Center. People can also donate directly to the fund through the Innovia Foundation.

Otto Klein said he hopes the King Carl campaign gives people a greater understanding of who Maxey was and what he meant for Spokane’s Black communities.

“I hope they realize what a great pioneer we had in our community, who stood for justice and for civil rights, and was a championship boxer and was an important person, and the Maxey family still continues today,” Klein said.

Morgan Maxey hopes the campaign will extend his grandfather’s legacy to people who don’t have a living memory of the man and his work.

“Those that are of my father’s generation are very well familiar with the things that he did, because it was happening contemporaneous with the time that they were growing up,” he said. “So I think it’s really just trying to bring some attention, make sure those things aren’t forgotten.”

Logo designer Jason Klein said he hopes the campaign spreads Carl Maxey’s recognition beyond Spokane, to the rest of America.

“We want somebody to be wearing it on a vacation to Florida, and somebody sees it and says, ‘Oh, hey! Cool hat! What is that all about?’ And then the story gets told,” he said.

So far, the story of the King Carl campaign is a good one. The night the uniforms debuted, the Indians staged a come-from-behind victory over the visiting Everett AquaSox.

The Indians will again don the King Carl uniforms next month to mark Juneteenth.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for nearly twenty years, primarily in reporting, hosting and interviewing. His previous ports-of-call were WUOT-FM in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alabama Public Radio. His work has been heard nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now and NPR’s top-of-the-hour newscasts.