For years black people have had to fight to be seen as equal to our white counterparts, and the players of the Negro Leagues did just that. Not only did the Negro Leagues level the playing field of baseball and integrate with white Major League teams, they also helped move the needle of black civil rights in the United States.
The Negro Leagues actually started way before 1920. Black Americans began playing baseball in the late 1800s on military, college, and company teams and even played on professional teams. Moses Fleetwood Walker and Bud Fowler were two of the first black players to play on a professional baseball team. However, racism and “Jim Crow” laws would later bar black players from professional teams. In 1867, The National Association of Amateur Base Ball Players rejected black players’ membership and in 1876, the National League adopted the “Gentleman’s Agreement.” By 1900, there were no black players on professional baseball teams… that is until 1920.
The ‘old gentleman’s agreement’ was an agreement between Major League owners not to sign Black baseball players to their team. This agreement helped keep Black baseball players out of the Major Leagues and helped continue segregation not only in baseball but in life.Negro LEagues baseball museum, emuseum – glossary of terms
Because black players were ejected from major league teams, they began to form their own units and play whoever who would play against them, often referred to as “barnstorming.” Players would often sleep on buses just to play the game that they loved. However, the tide begins to turn in 1920.
In 1920, Andrew “Rube” Foster formed the Negro Leagues which began to level the playing field between black and white baseball teams. Originally starting with eight teams (Chicago American Giants, Chicago Giants, Cuban Stars, Dayton Marcos, Detroit Stars, Kansas City Monarchs, Indianapolis ABCs, and the St. Louis Giants), the Negro Leagues soon became centerpieces for economic development for black communities and began to break the color barrier in the Major Leagues.
The color barrier was broken wide open when Jackie Robinson was recruited by the Brooklyn Dodgers – currently the LA Dodgers – in 1945. However, since all of the best black players were now being recruited for the Major Leagues and the fans who adored these black players followed them to the major leagues, the Negro Leagues started to decline. In 1960 the last Negro League teams folded.
Don’t be fooled… just because the color barrier was broken, doesn’t mean that black players still didn’t face challenges. Although black players were now on white teams, they still had to travel separately and stay in places separate from their white teammates. Not only did black players have to travel, eat and sleep separated from their white teammates, but often times racial slurs and shouts of hatred could be heard during a game while a black player was up for bat or pitching. Nevertheless, great black players kept on playing through the hardships and they won the fight to play.
Their fight wasn’t that much different than the fight we black people fight today. Then, they fought to play baseball in spite of racism and social injustice. Today, we fight for better economic, education, and housing opportunities in spite of racism and social injustice. But just like black baseball players won the fight to play baseball, WE WILL WIN OUR FIGHT TOO!
I highly encourage you to visit the Negro League Baseball Museum’s website to learn more about the Negro League and to watch more videos like the one below.