At one time, baseball in the United States was segregated. The Blacks played with the Negro Leagues!
The Negro leagues were United States professional baseball leagues comprising teams predominantly made up of African Americans. The term may be used broadly to include professional black teams outside the leagues and it may be used narrowly for the seven relatively successful leagues beginning in 1920 that are sometimes termed "Negro Major Leagues."
In 1885 the Cuban Giants formed the first black professional baseball team. The first league, the National Colored Base Ball League, failed in 1887 after only two weeks owing to low attendance. The Negro American League of 1951 is considered the last major league season and the last professional club, the Indianapolis Clowns, operated amusingly rather than competitively from the mid-1960s to 1980s.
History of the Negro leagues
Because blacks were not being accepted into the major and minor baseball leagues, they formed their own teams and had made professional teams by the 1880s. The first known baseball game between two named black teams was held on September 28, 1860, at Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey. The Weeksville of New York beat the Colored Union Club 11–0. In 1862, a newspaper reporter looking for a game between two white teams stumbled upon a game between black teams and covered it for his paper. At the time, baseball was commonly deemed recreation around which social gatherings were held.
Immediately after the end of the American Civil War in 1865 and during the Reconstruction period that followed, a black baseball scene formed in the East and Mid-Atlantic states. Comprising mainly ex-soldiers and promoted by some well-known black officers, teams such as the Jamaica Monitor Club, Albany Bachelors, Philadelphia Excelsiors and Chicago Uniques started playing each other and any other team that would play against them.
By the end of the 1860s, the black baseball mecca was Philadelphia, which had an African-American population of 22,000. Two former cricket players, James H. Francis and Francis Wood, formed the Pythian Base Ball Club. They played in Camden, New Jersey, at the landing of the Federal Street Ferry, because it was difficult to get permits for black baseball games in the city. Octavius Catto, the promoter of the Pythians, decided to apply for membership in the National Association of Base Ball Players, normally a matter of sending delegates to the annual convention; beyond that, a formality. At the end of the 1867 season "the National Association of Baseball Players voted to exclude any club with a black player." In some ways Blackball thrived under segregation, with the few black teams of the day playing not only each other but white teams as well. "Black teams earned the bulk of their income playing white independent 'semipro' clubs."
Baseball featuring African American players became professionalized by the 1870s. The first known professional black baseball player was Bud Fowler, who appeared in a handful of games with a Chelsea, Massachusetts club in April 1878 and then pitched for the Lynn, Massachusetts team in the International Association. Moses Fleetwood Walker and his brother, Welday Wilberforce Walker, were the first two black players in the major leagues. They both played for the 1884 Toledo Blue Stockings in the American Association. Then in 1886 second baseman Frank Grant joined the Buffalo Bisons of the International League, the strongest minor league, and hit .340, third highest in the league. Several other black American players joined the International League the following season, including pitchers George Stovey and Robert Higgins, but 1888 was the last season blacks were permitted in that or any other high minor league.
The first black professional baseball team was formed in 1885 when the Babylon Black Panthers, formed by waiters and porters from the Argyle Hotel in Babylon, New York were spotted by a white businessman from Trenton, New Jersey, Walter S. Cook. Cook renamed them the Cuban Giants so that he could attract more white fans. Shortly after the Giants' formation, the Jacksonville, Florida newspaper, the Leader, assembled the first Negro league, the Southern League of Base Ballists. The Southern League was composed of ten teams: the Memphis Eclipse, the Georgia Champions of Atlanta, the Savannah Broads, the Memphis Eurekas, the Savannah Lafayettes, the Charleston Fultons, the Jacksonville Athletics, the New Orleans Unions, the Florida Clippers of Jacksonville and the Jacksonville Macedonias. The league played its first game on June 7 between the Eclipse and the Unions in New Orleans, Louisiana. Soon deep in debt, the league lasted only one year.
The success of the Cubans led to the creation of the second Negro league in 1887, the National Colored Base Ball League. It was founded with six teams: Baltimore Lord Baltimores, Boston Resolutes, Louisville Falls Citys, New York Gorhams, Philadelphia Pythians, and Pittsburgh Keystones. Two more joined before the season but never played a game, the Cincinnati Browns and Washington Capital Cities. The league, led by Walter S. Brown of Pittsburgh, applied for and was granted official minor league status and thus "protection" under the major league-led National Agreement. This move prevented any team in organized baseball from signing any of the NCBBL players, which also locked the players to their particular teams within the league. The reserve clause would have tied the players to their clubs from season to season but the NCBBL failed. One month into the season, the Resolutes folded. A week later, only three teams were left.
Because the original Cuban Giants were a popular and business success, many similarly named teams came into existence — including the Cuban X-Giants, a splinter and a powerhouse around 1900; the Genuine Cuban Giants, the renamed Cuban Giants, the Columbia Giants, the Brooklyn Royal Giants, and so on. The early "Cuban" teams were all composed of African Americans rather than Cubans; the purpose was to increase their acceptance with white patrons as Cuba was on very friendly terms with the US during those years. Beginning in 1899 several Cuban baseball teams played in North America, including the All Cubans, the Cuban Stars (West), the Cuban Stars (East), and the New York Cubans. Some of them included white Cuban players and some were Negro Leagues members.
The few players on the white minor league teams were constantly dodging verbal and physical abuse from both competitors and fans. Then President Rutherford B. Hayes signed the Compromise of 1877, and all the legal obstacles were removed from the South's enacting the Jim Crow laws. To make matters worse, on July 14, 1887, Cap Anson's Chicago White Stockings were scheduled to play the Newark Giants of the International League, which had Fleet Walker and George Stovey on its roster. After Anson marched his team onto the field, military style as was his custom, he demanded that the blacks not play. Newark capitulated, and later that same day, league owners voted to refuse future contracts to blacks, citing the "hazards" imposed by such athletes.
In 1888, the Middle States League was formed and it admitted two all-black teams to its otherwise all-white league, the Cuban Giants and their arch-rivals, the New York Gorhams. Despite the animosity between the two clubs, they managed to form a traveling team, the Colored All Americans. This enabled them to make money barnstorming while fulfilling their league obligations. In 1890, the Giants returned to their independent, barnstorming identity, and by 1892, they were the only black team in the East still in operation on a full-time basis.
There is no doubt that [Roosevelt] Jackson played and managed in a number of black-only professional and semi-professional baseball leagues in the 1930’s and 1940’s. That much is uncontested.
What Jackson did not do was to play in any of the all-black leagues traditionally thought of as the Negro “Major” Leagues. So the “problem” of whether Roosevelt Jackson is a veteran of the Negro Leagues is really one of semantics.
(This terminology problem is not limited to the history of the Negro leagues. Even today, many baseball fans use the terms “professional” baseball” and “Major League” baseball interchangeably, although “professional” baseball is logically a much broader category that includes the Minor Leagues of Organized Baseball as well as independent professional leagues.)
The “Major Leagues” of black baseball are usually viewed as those leagues which contained teams drawn from a wide geographic area and which included most of the top African-American baseball players. The seven leagues widely viewed as “major leagues” are listed below:
- Negro National League I (1920-1931)
- Eastern Colored League (1923-1928)
- American Negro League (1929)
- East-West League (1932, folded mid-season)
- Negro Southern League (major league, 1932 only, otherwise a minor league)
- Negro National League II (1933-1948)
- Negro American League (1937-1960)
Most of the historical accounts of Negro League baseball focus upon the above leagues, hence, the frequent assumption that “Negro League” and “Negro Major League” are synonyms.