The Negro Leagues Baseball Era and Players: A Brief History
Between the end of the Depression and the advent of integrated baseball in the late 1940s, the Negro Leagues enjoyed its heyday, as crowds came out to see teams such as the Kansas City Monarchs, Pittsburgh Crawfords, and Homestead Grays, whose star-filled rosters captured the imagination of fans black and white. Soon, however, the younger among those star players would also draw the attention of the white major leagues, for whom integration looked increasingly to be an unprecedented opportunity to add both talented players and devoted, ticket-buying fans.
Although we now know that African Americans played on teams at least as far back as the 1850s, the first black player in baseball’s recognized major leagues, William Edward White, appeared in 1879. He was followed by brothers Fleetwood and Welday Walker in 1884, but it would be sixty-three years before a fourth player, Jackie Robinson, donned a uniform for a major league team. This period of segregated play, initiated with a gentleman’s agreement between owners and ended by Robinson’s arrival in 1947, is sometimes referred to as the era of black baseball.
Without access to so-called organized (white) baseball, top-flight players joined newly formed black teams that cropped up throughout the country. The best among these professional and semiprofessional clubs would survive for years as either independent or, later, league-affiliated franchises. Their competition was made up mostly of other black teams, but games were also booked against white clubs from both inside and out of establishment baseball. These early black teams even played major leaguers on occasion, and records indicate that they won these matchups with some regularity.
By 1920, the need for a centrally governed, organized league was clear, and a group of owners led by Rube Foster met in Kansas City to form the Negro National League. For more than a decade, the NNL would represent the African American game at its highest level, despite facing staggering organizational challenges. (The league, for instance, had to create balanced schedules with teams that were financially unsteady; book ballparks—very few teams had their own—often around the schedules of white clubs, and cope with rampant contract jumping and player raids.) Although the league would fail in 1931, it established a model that others—including a second Negro National League, the Eastern Colored League, American Negro League, and the East-West League—could follow.
While the addition of black players to major league rosters would occur slowly, the number of black players signed to minor league contracts wouldn’t. Within a few seasons of Robinson’s debut, the Negro Leagues had fallen on hard times, and while they would struggle on for much of the decade that followed, black baseball’s moment had passed.
Resources for Learning About the Negro Leagues
- Blackball: A Separate Game - Posted courtesy of The National Pastime Museum
- Books about baseball from McFarland
The Negro Leagues: A Selected Bibliography
- Heaphy, Leslie. The Negro Leagues, 1869-1960. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2002.
- Hogan, Lawrence D., et al. Shades of Glory: The Negro Leagues and the Story of African American Baseball. Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2006.
- Lanctot, Neil. Negro League Baseball: The Rise and Ruin of a Black Institution. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.
- Lomax, Michael. Black Baseball Entrepreneurs, 1860-1901: Operating by Any Means Necessary. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2003.
- ___. Black Baseball Entrepreneurs, 1902-1931: The Negro National and Eastern Colored Leagues. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2014.
- Newman, Roberta J., and Joel Nathan Rosen. Black Baseball, Black Business: Race Enterprise and the Fate of the Segregated Dollar. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2014.
- Peterson, Robert. Only the Ball Was White. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1970; paperback, New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
- Plott, William J. The Negro Southern League: A Baseball History, 1920-1951. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2015.
- Trembanis, Sarah. The Set-Up Men: Race, Culture and Resistance in Black Baseball. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2014.
- White, Sol. Sol White’s History of Colored Base Ball, with Other Documents on the Early Black Game, 1886-1936. Compiled and Edited by Jerry Malloy. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995.
- Lanctot, Neil. Fair Dealing and Clean Playing: The Hilldale Club and the Development of Black Professional Baseball, 1910-1932. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1994; reprint, Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2007.
- Bankes, Jim. The Pittsburgh Crawfords. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2001.
- Bruce, Janet. The Kansas City Monarchs: Champions of Black Baseball. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1985.
- Debono, Paul. The Chicago American Giants. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007 [2011 paperback].
- ___. The Indianapolis ABCs. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1997.
- Luke, Bob. The Baltimore Elite Giants: Sport and Society in the Age of Negro League Baseball. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 2009.
- Overmyer, James E. Black Ball and the Boardwalk: The Bacharach Giants of Atlantic City, 1916-1929. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2014.
- Snyder, Brad. Beyond the Shadow of he Senators: The Untold Story of the Grays and the Integration of Baseball. Chicago: Contemporary, 2003.
Oral Histories and Autobiographies
- Altman, George, with Lew Freedman. My Baseball Journey from the Negro Leagues to the Majors and Beyond. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2013.
- Cash, Bill “Ready.” Thou Shalt Not Steal: The Baseball Life and Times of a Rifle-Armed Negro Leaguer. Philadelphia: Love Eagle Books, 2012.
- Kelley, Brent. Voices from the Negro Leagues: Conversations with 52 Baseball Standouts of the Period 1924-1960. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2005. First published 1998.
- Motley, Bob, with Byron Motley. Ruling Over Monarchs, Giants and Stars: True Tales of Breaking Barriers, Umpiring Baseball Legends, and Wild Adventures in the Negro Leagues. New York: Sports Publishing, 2011.
- Trouppe, Quincy. Twenty Years Too Soon: Prelude to Major League Integrated Baseball. Los Angeles: S and S, 1977; reprint, St. Louis: Missouri Historical Society Press, 1995.
- Holway, John. Voices from the Great Black Baseball Leagues. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1975; revised edition, Mineola, NY: Dover, 2010.
- Leonard, Buck, with James A Riley. Buck Leonard, the Black Lou Gehrig: An Autobiography. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1995.
- O’Neil, Buck, with Steve Wulf. I Was Right on Time: My Journey from the Negro Leagues to the Major Leagues. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997.
- Pollock, Alan J. Barnstorming to Heaven: Syd Pollock and His Great Black Teams. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2006.
- Burgos, Adrian, Jr. Cuban Star: How One Negro-League Owner Changed the Face of Baseball. New York: Hill and Wang, 2011.
- Luke, Bob. Willie Wells: “El Diablo” of the Negro Leagues. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007.
- Lester, Larry. Rube Foster in His Time: On the Field and in the Papers with Black Baseball’s Greatest Visionary. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2012.
- Overmyer, James E. Queen of the Negro Leagues: Effa Manley and the Newark Eagles. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 1998.
- Spivey, Donald. If You Were Only White: The Life of Leroy “Satchel” Paige. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2013.
- Zang, David W. Fleet Walker’s Divided Heart: The Life of Baseball’s First Black Major Leaguer. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995.
- Adelson, Bruce. Brushing Back Jim Crow: The Integration of Minor League Baseball in the American South. Charlottesville: University of Press of Virginia, 2007.
- Lamb, Chris. Conspiracy of Silence: Sportswriters and the Long Campaign to Desegregate Baseball. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2012.
- Swaine, Rick. The Integration of Major League Baseball: A Team by Team History. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009.
- Tygiel, Jules. Baseball’s Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy. 25th Anniversary Edition. New York: Oxford University, 2008.
- McGregor, Robert Kuhn. A Calculus of Color: The Integration of Baseball’s American League. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2015.
Mr. Jones’ “Traveling Museum of Artifacts from the Negro Leagues Era and Players” will be on display in the Multicultural Center and in the International Hallway on the first floor of Plemmons Student Union from April 13-April 17, from 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Admission is free and the public is invited.
The Derrick C. Jones Residency on the Negro Leagues Baseball Era is sponsored by the Office of Equity, Diversity and Compliance, with support from Belk Library and Information Commons, McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, and Dan’l Boone Inn.
Hosts for Jones’ presentations and lectures include the Boone Mennonite Brethren Church, Appalachian’s Black Faculty and Staff Association, the Diversity Celebration, the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts, Mabel School, the Department of Sociology and Watauga County Library.
For additional information, call 828-262-2144 or email Susan King at firstname.lastname@example.org.