Negro Leagues: The Beginning

Possibly the first professional African-American player — Moses “Fleetwood” Walker.

In honor of Jackie Robinson, this will be “Jackie Robinson Week” here. You might have noticed that I haven’t included any Negro League posts, but I figured this would be a good time to start. There should be some interesting posts for the next week, and we’ll start with the beginning of the Negro Leagues.

From the end of the Civil War to the late 1800’s, whites and blacks often played on the same amateur teams. Though they weren’t quite “integrated”, a number of African-Americans played on teams with whites. In 1867, the National Base Ball Players Association banned African-Americans, but blacks still found their way on to numerous minor-league teams. John “Bud” Fowler is the actual first known professional baseball player to break the color barrier when he played in Massachusetts in 1878, and six years later, he moved to Stillwater, Minnesota. Joining Fowler in the Northwestern League (remember, the United States wasn’t that developed at that point and the Mid-West was the West to those citizens), Moses Walker, George Stovey, and Frank Grant also played in white minor leagues.

But those leagues weren’t the only ones with teams. As those four worked in the Mid-West, around 200 other teams were all-black and playing against each other. Black baseball began to move throughout the Mid-West and even the South. In the East, the Homestead Grays, Cuban Giants, Cuban Stars, and the Brooklyn Royal Giants were the main teams. In the Mid-West, the Chicago Giants, St. Louis Giants, Indianapolis ABC’s, and Kansas City Monarchs began to rival their northeastern rivals. Even the South, with the Nashville Standard Giants and Birmingham Black Barons, began to have legitimate foundations for teams.

After World War I, black baseball was a major pastime for urban neighborhoods. This move coincided with the emergence of a very important, though arrogant, man — Rube Foster. Frank Leland had started the movement for a black major leagues, it was Foster who made it possible. Foster was originally a very talented pitcher early in the century, but he would take control of the Leland Giants (Frank Leland’s team) in 1907, and he forced Leland to step aside and relinquish all roster and bookkeeping controls. Owner of the now Chicago American Giants, Foster used his prominence to organize the Negro National League in 1920. Foster took advantage of the demographic shift caused by World War I. Blacks began moving en masse to the North to take available factory jobs, and with a larger fanbase, the time was ripe.

Eight teams composed the first Negro National League: the Cuban Stars, Chicago American Giants, Kansas City Monarchs, Chicago Giants, Dayton Marcos, Detroit Stars, Indianapolis ABC’s, and St. Louis Giants (Giants was apparently a very popular name). Of course, Foster had to have control. He became league president, forced teams to buy his equipment, and took 5% of all gate receipts of every team. But he was the man who made this league possible, and for now, things were looking promising for black baseball.


One Response to “Negro Leagues: The Beginning”

  1. Josh Says:

    How were they able to fund the negro leagues and pay the players’ salaries, etc.? I’ve always been interested to know that.


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