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HISTORY



HISTORICAL EVENTS & CONTRIBUTORS

Civil War:

The American Civil War (1861-1865) began, with the election of anti-slavery President Abraham Lincoln.  In an effort to maintain slavery and protect their state sovereignty, seceding southern states formed the Confederate States of America. President Lincoln in his inaugural address declared the secession “legally void” and made plea for national restoration.  His words were ignored and war was inevitable. What proclamation, enacted by President Lincoln during the Civil War, freed slaves held in territory under Confederate control?  President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was supposed to free all slaves in Confederate territory however; it was not until the 13th Amendment was introduced after the war that the slaves were truly freed.

Black Soldiers:

Prior to the start of the Civil War, government policy prevented blacks from serving in the state militias or the U.S. Army or Navy.  In 1862, soon after the war effort began, segregated forces were established allowing blacks to enlist their service.  By the end of the war a great number of blacks had served in the war effort, almost all of them fighting for the Union army.  How many black Civil War soldiers and sailors were awarded the U.S. military’s Medal of Honor?  Twenty-four black soldiers and sailors were awarded the U.S. military’s Medal of Honor

Reconstruction:

As the Civil War came to an end; the nation entered a period known as Reconstruction (1866-1877).  During Reconstruction, the north influenced the process by which the defeated confederate states were reintegrated into the union.  They also aided in the development process and re-establishment of southern government and economy.  The introduction of numerous civil rights laws brought change to the southern societal landscapes that spawn racial tension that would manifest and linger for many decades.  Who were derisively defined as carpetbaggers and scalawags?  Northerners that entered the south to participate in government were called carpetbaggers.  White southerners that joined the Republican Party were referred to as scalawags.

Constitutional Amendments:

During the Reconstruction years, three constitutional amendments were passed. The thirteenth amendment abolished slavery, the fourteenth granted citizenship and civil rights to African Americans, and the fifteenth prohibited racial discrimination in voting. Opposition in the southern states showed its face in Jim Crow Laws of discrimination and segregation throughout the years that followed.

Cuban Giants:

In 1885, a team known as the Athletics was founded in Babylon, New York. They were renamed the Cuban Giants a year later and are recognized as being the first all-black professional baseball team.  The success of the star studded Cuban Giants marveled the baseball world that led to the creation of the National Colored Baseball League in 1887.  Years later, the Cuban Giants represented York Pennsylvania in the Interstate League (1890) and Ansonia, Conn. of the Connecticut League (1891).  Which team claimed championship honors by beating the Cuban Giants in 10 of a fifteen game series in 1896? The Page Fence Giants

Exclusion:

The Chicago Nationals superstar Cap Anson threatened to walk off the field if Fleet Walker of the Toledo Blue Sox was suited to play. Toledo denied the demand and Anson backed down.  On July 14, 1887, Chicago’s manager, none other than Cap Anson, refused to play Newark as long as black players, pitcher George Stovey and Walker took the field.  Newark caved to his threat, declaring the players had taken ill.  Black athletes were soon to be excluded from professional baseball for six decades.  What was the result of a vote taken by the International League on July 14, 1887?  Colored players were banned form the International League.

Page Fence Giants:

The Page Fence Giants were founded in 1895 by notable baseball talents Bud Fowler and Grant Johnson.  The club, based in Adrian, Michigan had no home field.  Sponsor J. Wallace Page, founder of the Page Woven Wire Fence Company, provided a custom railroad car with cook and porter accommodations.  The team virtually lived on the tracks.  The Giants are now regarded as the best team in black baseball, producing a championship in 1896 and two winning streaks that totaled 113 games.  (Photo on 24/25 Amereon)  Why did Bud Fowler abandon his team in July of 1895?  Bud left his creation for what turned out to be his last effort at making it in the minor leagues.

Plessy v. Fergusson:

A man named Homer A. Plessy was arrested after he boarded a train on June 7, 1892 and refused to be seated in a car designated for black passengers.  Mr. Plessy alleged he was 7/8 Caucasian and 1/8 African, to which the conductor had him arrested.  In 1896, the Supreme Court upheld Judge Ferguson’s court ruling stating that the Louisiana Act of 1890, “equal” but separate accommodations for whites and non-whites, was permitted under the Constitution. The Plessy v. Fergusson decision opened the door to nearly six decades of Jim Crow discrimination.

Jim Crow:

Jim Crow laws (sometimes referred to as Black Codes) were laws that mandated discrimination and enabled racial segregation through the common use of the ideological phrase, “separate but equal”.  These laws regulated separate use of public facilities and services including that of water fountains, bathrooms and segregated seating on public transportation to name a few. Acts of civil disobedience is often considered to have been motivation for the modern civil rights movement of mid 20th century America.

        

Rise of Black Baseball:

At the turn of the century a mass exodus of the black community left the Jim Crow South behind to discover greater opportunity in the North. Within the masses existed talented baseball players and baseball fans.  Black baseball was now taking America by storm.  Until the first established league was formed in 1920, team rosters were a revolving door of talented players.  As soon as a powerhouse team was amassed it was disassembled by other teams that raided their talent.  In 1920, this ex-pitcher/ manager/owner established the first professional league within black baseball? Rube Foster led the charge; his Chicago American Giants amongst the eight teams committed to the effort.

Harlem Renaissance:

The gathering of aspiring black artists, writers and musicians in New York City’s ghetto of Harlem in the 1920’s is commonly referred to as the Harlem Renaissance or the New Negro Movement.  This period of literary expression and exploration encouraged a renewal of racial pride and confidence and invigorated interest in the black culture. This movement was soon stalled by the economic hardship of the Great Depression.

Great Depression:

As the nation plunged into the financial crisis of the Great Depression the Negro National League felt the pain of declining attendance and increasing losses.  As a result, the NNL shut down, unable to begin the 1932 season.  Some teams disbanded while others continued as barnstorming franchises.  Only the Chicago American Giants and the Indianapolis ABC’s crossed over to organized baseball in the Negro Southern League.  Which two teams departed the ranks of the NNL a year earlier in 1931?  Cuban Stars and the Birmingham Black Barons.

Mobile Lighting and Night Games:

Night baseball games had been a desire of many since the 1880’s.  J. L. Wilkinson, owner of the All Nations team, experimented with kerosene lamps as early as 1915.  In 1930, as owner of the Negro Leagues Kansas City Monarchs, Mr. Wilkinson once again desired to light the night for baseball.  In competition with two other innovators, he introduced a three piece mobile lighting system.  Each piece positioned six 1000 watt bulbs, hoisted by cable atop telescoping steel poles fastened to the bed of a Ford truck. The concept caught on and night games in the Negro Leagues became an important factor in the leagues ability to overcome the hardships endured by the Great Depression.

East-West Game:

Gus Greenlee and associate Roy Sparrow delivered the first East-West Game to Negro baseball fans in 1933.  The game took place in Chicago alongside of the World Fair and turned out to be a commercial success.  Although questions were raised following the contest regarding the player selection process, the game itself became “the event” of each season that followed.  The event drew some 20,000 to 30,000 fans every time it was played.  Where the East West Game was traditionally played? Comiskey Park in downtown Chicago.

WWII:

WWII was underway.  Axis Powers had seized Norway and Denmark and invaded Poland.  In 1940, Winston Churchill became the Prime Minister of Britain.  On Dec 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor came under attack.  Many of the men that played on segregated baseball fields in the Negro Leagues were called upon to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces.  In 1943, an all-black 99th Fighter Squadron flew combat missions in the skies over Italy.  In 1944, an all-black 92nd division of the U. S. Army, entered battle in the European theatre of war.  In August of 1945, following an atomic attack on two Japanese cities, Japan surrendered marking the end of the war. Responding to the Royal Air Force’s Spitfire fighter pilots effort to save their homeland, Winston Churchill uttered these famous words. “Never have so many owed so much to so few.”

Color Barrier Down:

In October of 1945, Brooklyn Dodgers scout Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson to the teams farm system in Montreal.   This brought Jackie online to make his historical break into the majors on April 15, 1947.  This moment was monumental as was the sacrifice imposed upon the Negro Leagues Baseball team owners.  Throughout the years preceding, Mr. Rickey had plucked many men from their rosters; including all-stars Roy Campanella, Don Newcomb, and Dan Bankhead just to name a few.  Their business interests had been snatched from them without due compensation. Jackie debuted with the National Leagues Brooklyn Dodgers shortly before this man debuted as the first black player in the American League.  Larry Doby departed the Newark Eagles to make his Major League debut with the American Leagues Cleveland Indians.

Negro Nationals Leagues Demise (1948):

In the wake of the Brooklyn Dodgers acquisition and eventual deployment of Jackie Robinson in 1947, the Negro National League in financial crisis was forced to call it quits and after the 1948 season.  The Newark Eagles, the Baltimore Elite Giants, the New York Cubans, the Philadelphia Stars, and the New York Black Yankees merged into the Negro American Leagues Eastern Division and continued play.  What game often referred to as “the event”, remained a tradition and well respected attraction?  The East-West All-Star Game played at Comisky Park in Chicago.

It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over:

As the 1948 season expired, so did the Negro National League.  The Negro American League (NAL) however maintained their niche in black baseball by providing opportunity to black athletes and by entertaining fans throughout the 1950’s and early 1960’s.  The NAL offered Major League Baseball many superstars and future Hall of Fame players. Several teams weathered the stormy process of integrating the majors, witnessed the societal landscape of the nation begin to take color, and in 1963 played out the last season of organized black baseball.  Which four teams closed out the Negro American League in 1963?  The Kansas City Monarchs, the Detroit-New Orleans Stars, the Birmingham Black Barons and the Raleigh Tigers.

        

House of David:

House of David was a religious movement that used the game of baseball to spread its word across the countryside.  Benton Harbor, Michigan was home to the movement.  They produced several independent teams and were quite active against Negro League teams. On occasion, black athletes appeared on the HOD roster. What famous pitcher supported the effort of the House of David’s bid to win the 1934, Denver Double Elimination Tournament?  Satchel Paige helped House of David go undefeated and win the $5,000.00 prize, and championship honors.

Integrating the Negro Leagues:

In late June of 1950, Chicago manager signed three white players to the American Giants organization.  Both pitcher Louis Chirban and outfielder Louis Clarizio were called from their duties with semi-pro clubs to join the ranks of the American Giants in late June.  Al Dubbetts, a pitcher and baseball prospect from Havana, Illinois completed the ivory trio.  This effort was very short lived. Who was the manager that signed these men and how did he earn his nickname? “Double Duty” Radcliff (re: Riley)

Demise Equals Victory:

The demise of the Negro American Leagues is said to have occurred somewhat unnoticed at the end of the 1963 with the demise of its four teams; the Kansas City Monarchs (based in Grand Rapids Michigan), Detroit - New Orleans Stars, Birmingham Black Barons, and the Raleigh Tigers who had replaced the Memphis Red Sox.  The Negro League had for many years provided opportunity where it was once denied.  As the American League cleared the field for the last time, its victory was realized… it was no longer needed.  Which independent team (one whose roots were firmly planted in the Negro Leagues) continued to play baseball into the 1970’s?   Indianapolis Clowns

Barnstorming:

As teams from the Negro Leagues traveled between cities to fulfill their league schedule, they often played independent teams to raise additional revenue.  This style of play was referred to as Barnstorming. These games played an important part of the organizations financial success and were most often scheduled long before the season even began.   How was the gate money divided between the winner and the loser in a contest often referred to as P.C. Ball?    The winner usually took 60% and the loser 40%.

NL Players North of the Border:

The Mandak and Provincial Leagues of Canadian baseball offered black players opportunities within the ranks of their integrated teams.  In fact, Homestead Gray star Sam Bankhead, became the first black manager in “white baseball” for Farnham of the Provincial League. Throughout the years, many Negro League players enjoyed seasons of great success north of the border.  

NL Players South of the Border:

Off-season competition heated up in Mexico, South and Central America, Puerto Rico and Cuba. Some of the most notable player’s, including Cool Papa Bell, Chet Brewer, Josh Gibson, Willie Wells, Ray Dandridge, Marti Dihigo, Leon Day and many more migrated towards opportunity south of the border.  In 1940, Cool Papa Bell hit .437 and led the Mexican Leagues in everything but stolen bases – he was third, behind Sammy Bankhead and Wild Bill Wright.

Harlem Globetrotters:

Many of the athletes in the Negro Leagues were incredibly multi-talented.  It was not uncommon to discover some of them traveling with the Harlem Globetrotters in the off season.  Abe Saperstein founder and owner of the touring basketball entertainment team in 1926 welcomed Negro League stars like Indianapolis Clowns Reese “Goose” Tatum, K.C. Monarchs Ted Strong and Birmingham Black Baron Lorenzo “Piper” Davis all of whom remained longtime team members.  Many of the other players were content to just be around the excitement and drive the bus for some extra cash.

’71 Pirates:

On September 1, 1971 the Pittsburgh Pirates fielded the first all-black lineup in major league baseball history, twice. After the all-black starting lineup with Dock Ellis on the mound allowed four runs, Ellis was yanked, replaced by Bob Moose in the second.  With two outs in the third inning, Veale replaced Moose putting an all-black lineup on the field for the second time, long enough to produce just one more out.  The Pirates rallied at the plate to defeat the Phillies 10-7. (ref: article by Rich Emert of The Pittsburgh Press).

BACKGROUND:

The history that is Presented in the NLB Living Legend Program has been gathered and prepared using the personal interviews performed by Trading Faces with those that appear on the NLB Roster/Checklist, and (with the copyright holders permission) the book – The Complete Book of the Negro Leagues the Other Half of Baseball History by John Holway and The Negro Baseball Leagues by Phil Dixon w/Patrick J. Hannigan.

From the time the color barrier was established in the late 1880’s and 1890’s, excluding players of color from organized baseball, Negro baseball leagues cropped up and existed haphazardly as independent teams at local levels. Attempts to introduce a nationally recognized organization were unsuccessful until a man known as Andrew (Rube) Foster organized and assembled the first successful black baseball league. The Negro National League was born in 1920. It was comprised of several teams representing larger cities in the Midwest. The league grew by accepting teams representing cities from the Eastern Colored Leagues. But in 1931 gates were closed, fields bare, and the bleachers emptied by the Great Depression. A year later the National League was resurrected, consisting of mostly eastern teams. In 1937 the Negro American League whose teams were generally located in the Midwest and South joined the Negro National League. The leagues pressed on together through the World War II era. Many players were drafted and served in the US segregated services supporting the United States National Defense effort and that of our allied forces.

In 1947, Jackie Robinson was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers Organization and crossed the color barrier that had for so many years denied men of color the opportunity to play and earn a living in the Major Leagues. At the end of the 1948 season, the Negro National League, plagued by declining attendance and revenue was disbanded. Several team’s from the National League that chose to persevere within the ranks of the Negro American League. The Negro American League continued to operate throughout the 1950’s and early 1960’s and played an extremely important role in the integration process that was beginning to take place in baseball as well as the cities, towns, and neighborhoods throughout the nation.

American Baseball’s Unknown Half
Introduction by John Holway

Imagine the present major leagues without Sammy Sosa, Ken Griffey Jr., Hank Aaron, or Willie Mays. That was the “major” leagues that my great-great grandfather knew for almost 80 years: 1869-1947.

The Sporting News, baseball’s “bible,” didn’t report Negro games at all. Luckily for historians, many white papers did, albeit sometimes among the high school and semipro games.

Thus, for most of white America, the black half of baseball history was either unknown entirely or was considered a footnote and a curiosity.

In 1969, when this research began, the National Baseball Library at Cooperstown had, as its entire collection of black baseball, one thin manila folder containing an Indianapolis Clowns scorecard and an article about Josh Gibson. Half of baseball history was missing.

Although white fans didn’t know the black half of their history, most white players did; the two races played each other on the field every fall and winter. More than 150, such games have been found; the blacks won more than they lost.

As scholars such as Robert Peterson (Only the Ball Was White) and others began revealing the dimensions of the missing history, Cooperstown in 1971 opened its doors to the first Negro Leaguer, Satchel Paige. By 2000 it had enshrined seventeen of these giants of the game, though many more still remain outside.

The Hall also opened a small Negro League display, about the size of its American Legion exhibit. In 1997, the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s big league debut, this was greatly expanded.

In 1989, the Macmillan Encyclopedia recognized the Negro Leagues and their contribution to history, when in its eighth edition; it published statistics of 125 stars. This was the collective effort of dozens of researchers, volunteer and paid, who pored over microfilm newspaper files to reconstruct the data. The Negro Leagues rarely published stats, and when they did, they were often at variance with data confirmed in the box scores.

The present work goes far beyond that early beginning. New sources of data have been tapped, and for the first time, a comprehensive yearly chronology of statistical and narrative history can be written.

Introduction to “The Complete Book of Baseball’s Negro Leagues: The Other Half of Baseball History”.

Written by John Holway

REFERENCES

  • Personal interviews conducted by the Legends of the Negro Leagues Program
  • "The Complete Book of Baseball’s Negro Leagues: The Other Half of Baseball History." Mr. John Holway
  • "The Negro Baseball Leagues - A Photographic History." Phil Dixon with Patrick J. Hannigan
  • Special thanks to publisher Jed Clauss of Amereon House
  • Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues by James A. Riley
  • The Negro Leagues Book edited by Dick Clark and Larry Lester (S.A.B.R. publication)
  • The Pittsburgh Press, Article by Rich Emert, 1971

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