Negro League Baseball
When the topic of baseball comes up in a conversation, what do you think of? The field, a bat, the ball, or amazing plays, crucial games, and game winning performances. What about American history? Does World War II come to mind; most likely not. According to an article called “Food for Thought: Baseball and American History,” John P. Rossi quotes Jacques Barzun saying, “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.” Negro League Baseball can be used to shed light on the historical experience of African American’s in the United States. The first record of baseball in the United States began in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 1791. Its popularity spread quickly through the town and the men were banned the playing the sport within 80 yards of the town meeting house. Another early mentioning of baseball was in New York. Referred to as “base ball”, it was regularly played on Saturday’s on the outskirts of New York in 1823; which is now known as Greenwich Village. At the same time, cricket was also a popular sport. Baseball and cricket jockeyed back and forth for popularity with baseball eventually winning over the crowd. A team called the New York Knickerbockers was founded in 1845. This was first baseball team to play under modern rules. These rules were likewise adopted and accepted by other teams. As baseball changed over time so did the rules. They eventually evolved into the rules that we now abide by in modern day baseball.
The first know record of African Americans playing baseball was 1846. At this same time, the Mexican-American war had just started. African Americans and whites picked the game up from other soldiers while fighting in the war. Often times during their leisure, the men would spend countless hours making a baseball diamond and striking up games with other soldiers. After the war was over baseball gained even more popularity and teams began to spring up all over the place. Also at this time, a freed slave name Frederick Douglas publishes his first abolitionist newspaper. Shorty after this, the first official baseball uniform was adopted in 1849. It consisted of a white flannel type shirt, blue wool pants, and straw hat. Although that was pretty significant as far as baseball is concerned, even more significant was a woman by the name of Harriet Tubman. While the baseball uniform was being comprised, Tubman was doing the unthinkable by escaping to Philadelphia and then later returning to the plantation she was enslave in and rescued her family. Slowly, group by group, she escorted fellow enslaved African Americans to freedom. This then became known as the Underground Railroad.
Segregation and discrimination was very common among Americans during this era. Hatred for African Americans spread like wild fire through society and then onto the baseball field. The National Association of Base Ball Players was the first known association to be established. Founded in 1858, the association was comprised of 16 teams from New York. This was the first organization to govern sports and establish a championship. Just a few years later in 1861, the confederacy was founded and the Civil War began. This sort of dampened the baseball community but it eventually rebounded with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. The war had little effect on the NABBP and with all its power slowly mounting, they decided to hold a meeting in 1867 to discuss what they called the nation’s moral dilemma-what to do about is four and a half million new citizens, all of them black. According to the book called Only The Ball Was White by Robert Peterson, the committee came to a unanimous decision, calling for the exclusion “of any club which may be composed of one or more colored persons”(16-17). Due to the fact that African Americans were such a hot political topic at this time, the South put into effect the notorious Black Codes. These codes were set into place right after the...
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