About the Exhibit
Baseball is one of America’s central institutions, and it has long reflected the complicated and painful history of race in the United States. “Pride and Passion: The African-American Baseball Experience” tells the story of black baseball players in the U.S. over the past century and a half. Although many blacks played baseball with whites in the nineteenth century as amateurs and also played on minor league teams through the 1880s, black players were not allowed to compete with whites when major league baseball was created in the mid 1890s. To counter this discrimination, they organized teams made up entirely of black players and formed leagues that were known collectively as the Negro Leagues. The Negro Leagues had their highest level of success in the 1940s, and they continued into the 1960s, with the last team disbanding in 1961. When Jackie Robinson was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1945, though, integration in baseball began a slow and uneven path to the integrated status of modern day teams, and all-black teams began to disappear.
“Pride and Passion: The African-American Baseball Experience” has been designated as part of the National Endowment for the Humanities’ (NEH) “We the People” initiative, exploring significant events and themes in our nation’s history and culture and advancing knowledge of the principles that define America. It is a collaboration between the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Library Association, and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The exhibition is based upon a permanent exhibition of the same name on display at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, N.Y.
The traveling exhibition and tour are funded by a major grant from NEH to the American Library Association Public Programs Office.
"Pride and Passion: The African-American Baseball Experience," follows the story of black baseball players since the civil war to the present era.The exhibit presents this story through the following sections:
Finding a Way in Hard Times, 1860-1887
Following the Civil War (1861-1865), Reconstruction was meant to establish freedom and fairness for former slaves. It failed dismally, even in baseball, a game spread throughout the nation by the war. In both the North and the South, opportunities for black players in organized baseball narrowed as racial prejudice deepened. As black communities became worlds of their own within the larger American society, African Americans established teams in clubs and schools.
When lines of prejudice firmed up by the mid-1880s, black players also formed professional teams, as opportunities for playing with white ballplayers faded away. Moses Fleetwood Walker and his brother, Weldy were the first black ballplayers to play on a white major league team when they played for Toledo in 1884, and they would be the last integrated major leaguers until Jackie Robinson in 1947.
Barnstorming on the Open Road, 1887-1919
By the late 1880s, more than 30 African Americans played on organized baseball rosters, mainly in the minor leagues. They were confronted with the insults of teammates, rough play of opponents, and the occasional violence of locals. Then in 1887, International League owners agreed to make no new contracts with African-American players. In unspoken agreement, other leagues adopted similar policies over the next 15 years.
With few if any options left, black players started their own professional teams. They barnstormed throughout many of the nation's towns and cities, playing against all comers and building a reputation for great baseball. By 1910, more than 60 teams were on the road. Some were so good that no amount of prejudice could deny their talent, yet throughout the era of segregated baseball, teams scrambled simply to exist.
Separate Leagues, Parallel Lives, 1920-1932
The first successfully organized black league appeared in 1920, and was soon followed by others. Although these early leagues were plagued by financial difficulties and changing teams and schedules, they managed to survive through perseverance, constant play, tremendous skill, and hard work.
Hoping to lessen the effects of discriminatory practices of white-run booking agencies and enhance opportunities for black players, black owner-managers Rube Foster of the Chicago American Giants and C.I. Taylor of the Indianapolis ABCs formed the Negro National League in 1920. The Eastern Colored League soon followed for the 1923 season. These leagues prospered during Roaring Twenties, as many southern rural African Americans migrated to northern and midwestern industrial cities looking for better work opportunities during "the Great Migration." The first era of black professional baseball ended with the coming of the Great Depression, which created immense hardship for African-American communities.
Paving the Way to Integration, 1933-1946
The Great Depression of the 1930s hit hard in many new and vibrant, but relatively poor, black neighborhoods of industrialized America, where spending power was already limited. Attendance at black baseball games plummeted. By 1931, both the Negro National and Eastern Colored leagues had folded, but black baseball quickly reorganized. Eventually Negro league baseball grew into a multi-million dollar enterprise, one of the largest in the African-American community and a focus of pride.
Playing under lights helped preserve black baseball during the Depression, as did the East-West all-star game, which annually put the best players of the Negro leagues in the spotlight at Comiskey Park in Chicago, drawing as many as 50,000 fans for one of the most important events in the African-American community.
Jackie Robinson Breaks the Barrier, 1947
As World War II ended, many African Americans believed that "separate but equal" could no longer be tolerated because while much was separate, little was equal. Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson took the lead in testing America's tolerance for integrated baseball. Under pressure, the major and minor leagues began to desegregate, but slowly and on their own terms.
Robinson became a hero to millions of Americans. He embodied the hope that one day the color of a person's skin would no longer determine the limits of opportunity. Nearly everybody agreed that Robinson's ability to tolerate prejudice, and his ability to play, helped many accept that African Americans belong in the majors and in mainstream American life. The integration of baseball acted as a harbinger of things to come.
Post-Integration Era, 1948-Present
After Robinson's 1947 Dodgers debut, pressure mounted for the rest of the major league teams to integrate. But progress was slow and it would take more than a decade before every club had at least one African-American player on its roster.
By 1959, every major league team's roster was integrated, but in baseball, as in all parts of American life, questions concerning the true equality of opportunity remained unresolved. The presence of black players, managers, executives or team officials was not always fully accepted or welcomed. Over the years, and often outside the public eye, integration of baseball's executive offices and related business has remained an issue.