Reflections on a Century of Black Baseball History

by Raymond Doswell, Ed.D.

The Chicago Defender February 1920

2020 will mark the 100th anniversary of a special meeting. In the dusk of war, industrialization, and segregation, a group of entrepreneurs came together in Kansas City to form a partnership. The partnership would include mutual respect as well as strong rivalries, but would endure for almost 50 years as a game changing institution for society. That partnership was the formation of the baseball’s Negro National League, succeeding where other attempts had failed or were short lived, to make America’s popular game accessible to African American professional play.

In that near half-century, the various teams, leagues, and rivalries spawned from this partnership made history. African American baseball, although separated from the Major League mainstream, thrived in urban and rural areas across the United States, the Caribbean and Latin America. It can be said that players brokered their culture and sports talent against the obstacles of injustice, racial intolerance, and oppression. By doing so, they forged a new path forward for racial equality, opening the eyes of critics and cynics to the possibilities of different cultures working together for mutual progress.

Sports led the way then, and for many, can still lead the way today in bringing people together. As one reflects on the legacy of Negro Leagues Baseball history, especially in this current moment, the lessons of perseverance, courage and respect exemplified by black baseball pioneers is instructive. In spite of many roadblocks to fairness, black baseball players chose to enjoy and make a living in baseball, when other opportunities were undoubtedly more practical. The power of sport and performance moved these men and women to excel, build baseball businesses, entertain their communities, and sustain themselves with their talents.

For most, their choices were part of the compromise minorities faced in the 20th century of fighting for rights while maintaining one’s sense of being an American.

We should be mindful today and study the choices and sacrifices of black baseball players. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum strives to keep these lessons relevant for anyone willing to learn. The connections to individual achievements and community connections during America’s segregated past that are showcased at the museum serve as poignant reminders of how people overcame racial obstacles and what to avoid for the future. The museum will mark the 100th anniversary of the Leagues through exhibitions, programs, and commemorations over several months so that the country never forgets the legacy of the Negro Leagues.

Raymond Doswell, Ed.D. is Vice President of Curatorial Services at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. He has been with the Museum since 1995. Ray, a St. Louis native, is a fan of the Cardinals. You can follow Raymond on Twitter @RaymondDoswell.

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