Baseball/Negro Leagues

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In the early days of major league baseball, which coincided with the Recontruction period following the American Civil War, there was no official color line. African-American ballplayers such as Bud Fowler, Frank Grant, Fleet Walker and Welday Walker adorned professional rosters during the 1870s and 1880s. The Walker brothers made it to the major leagues, in fact, playing with Toledo in the American Association. However, as segregation and Jim Crow laws appeared and gained force (often through violent means), even teams that formerly welcomed African-American players found themselves pressured, by peers or financial concerns, to drop those players.

Several attempts to found "Negro" leagues (to use the term that was in use at the time) met with limited success. Following World War I, however, a number of factors contributed to the founding of the Negro National League, which was to be successful. After the war, America saw an increase in racial tensions, which led to a resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, violent attacks on black-owned businesses and institutions, and renewed barring of African-Americans from white institutions. In response to this, Marcus Garvey advocated black separatism and urged the development of black-only businesses and institutions.

Against this background emerged a remarkable and energetic man, Rube Foster, a talented ballplayer himself who had been unable to play professional baseball in the United States. Foster founded the Negro National League in 1920.

Significant Negro Leagues

  • Negro National League (the first), 1920-1931
  • Eastern Colored League, 1923-1928; the NNL and ECL champions met in a World Series in 1926 and 1927.
  • Negro National League (the second), 1933-1948
  • Negro American League, 1937-1960 or so. (After 1950, the league and its teams operated after a fashion, mostly as barnstorming units, but historians have a hard time deciding when the league actually came to an end.) The National and American Leagues met in a World Series from 1937 through 1948.

Players of note:

Other Baseball Hall of Famers who played in both the Negro Leagues and the Major Leagues:

The end of the Negro Leagues: After the integration of the major leagues in 1947, as marked by the appearance of Jackie Robinson with the Brooklyn Dodgers that April, interest in Negro League baseball waned. Young players with enough talent were signed by major league teams, often without regard for any contracts that might have been signed with Negro League clubs. Negro League owners who complained about this practice were in a no-win situation: they could not protect their own interests without seeming to interfere with the advancement of players to the majors.

Some proposals were floated to bring the Negro Leagues into "organized baseball" as developmental leagues for black players, but this was seen as contrary to the goal of full integration of the sport. So the Negro Leagues, at one time one of the largest and most prosperous black-owned business ventures, were allowed to fade into oblivion.

Sources:

Only the Ball was White by Robert Peterson (1970)
Blackball Stars by John Holway (first-person accounts of the Negro Leagues by the men who played in them)

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