Negro League Baseball in Virginia Term Paper

Pages: 20 (6280 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 52  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Black Studies

¶ … Silhouette of America's Dream: Negro League Baseball in Tidewater, Virginia

Introduction report in the Norfolk Journal and Guide in 1917 paints a picture of racial harmony in Tidewater, Virginia, that would almost make one wonder why there needed to be Negro League Baseball. The banner headlines almost said it all: "Big Labor Day Celebration," "Thousands of White and Colored Laborers Paraded Streets of City." "Harmony Between Races"

As that report told it, the celebration was a landmark of many sorts. In a relatively lengthy preface to the description of the baseball game that was the culmination of the day, it noted that "If carrying the stars and stripes is a demonstrative evidence of patriotism and loyalty to the United States, the Norfolk colored labor organizations can be styled as true friends to their country. The organizations were out very strong on Labor day [sic]. Several thousands together with the white Labor unions marched the streets of Norfolk in celebration of the day designated as their day throughout the country."

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The author reported the surprise of the citizens that the white and black unionists were marching together, and attributed it, in part, to the fact that "the Negro is awakening to the necessity of organization for protection" in the same way whites had recognized the need for unions to protect them from Golden Age industrial excesses and greed. But the report also noted that whites, both union members and industrialists, in the Tidewater area were beginning to "recognize the Negro as an important factor in the industrial world. It was indeed the first time in the history of Norfolk that colored and white unionists combined in one parade."

Although the writer believed Norfolk to be the only city in the South to have a combined Labor Day demonstration, one thing had not changed:

TOPIC: Term Paper on Negro League Baseball in Virginia Assignment

The whites led the parade. Following close behind them were the various Negro unions. Among them were the Carpenters and Joiners, Coal Trimmers, Stokers, Working Women's union and many others. The colored aggregation, numbering more than a thousand, were escorted by three bands.

Not satisfied with all that, the writer offered the opinion that the great parade" demonstrated the "prevailing harmony which exists among the white and colored working classes of this community." At this point, it must be pointed out that the harmony did not extend to such simple pleasures as the great American pastime, baseball.

Although the writer does not spell out the races, he notes that at the end of the parade, "the colored marched back to Chapel street [sic] and some disbanded but the (assumed black) Coal Trimmers Local went to the League Baseball park and played until 4 o'clock; among the teams playing were the (Norfolk) Red Stockings.

This would imply that, at least in Tidewater, Virginia, the silhouette of black baseball truly was a shadow of the white game, a separate but equal entity. The facts of Negro League baseball, however, reveal that it wasn't so. The silhouette of Negro League baseball was, more often than not, a mere phantom -- an insubstantial suggestion of the body of the American ball club. and, like a phantom, a ghost, it was born of the death of the old order, and eventually disappeared when the black player was welcomed by the white leagues.

This harmonious and bucolic scene, moreover, would have been short-lived. Neil Lanctot, author of Negro League Baseball: The Rise and Ruin of a Black Institution, wrote that the Great Migration of 1916-1919 sent 500,000 blacks to northern industrial areas, leaving the economically declining South. Tidewater was right in the middle, although the fact that Newport News had been named a point of departure for troops being sent to the war in Europe would have bolstered the economy, making it attractive to those seeking work, black and white.

In fact, World War I accelerated the what was happening in Virginia. "In particular, shipbuilding, the only heavy industry in the state, swelled dramatically. The Tidewater region received another boost when Norfolk was selected as one of two embarkation points for the European front; that city's population rose 72% from 1910 to 1920. Although a predictable recession followed the war's end, the shipbuilding industry soon recovered and remained vibrant" allowing the Tidewater black baseball clubs to totter along despite lacking the nationally recognized superstars the Midwestern and northern clubs attracted, such as Satchel Paige.

By 1938, however -- a decade before the integration of the major leagues would hasten matters -- the Depression had caused distress in the Negro Leagues. The final blow might well be considered the 1938 game at Washington's Griffith Stadium; drawing nearly 11,000 fans, it constitutes a record for black baseball attendance.

History of Negro League Baseball: In the shadow of Jim Crow

In 1917, the United States was still firmly in the talons of the Jim Crow laws, which would arguably not be completely broken in baseball until Jackie Robinson joined the (white) major leagues in 1947. At the time, in fact, the concelebration in Norfolk might have run afoul of Virginia's Jim Crow laws, still firmly in effect at the time.

While the laws pertained to virtually every area of human conduct, and it was not necessary to spell out a particular endeavor, some states did have a specific "Jim Crow" law for baseball. Georgia's law not only demanded segregation; it spelled out how far the segregation had to extend:

Amateur Baseball it shall be unlawful for any amateur white baseball team to play baseball on any vacant lot or baseball diamond within two blocks of a playground devoted to the Negro race, and it shall be unlawful for any amateur colored baseball team to play baseball in any vacant lot or baseball diamond within two blocks of any playground devoted to the white race.

Jim Crow laws were named after a black character in minstrel shows, and existed from the 1990s into the 1960s in many arenas of public life in many states and cities both north and south of the Mason-Dixon line. In fact, so prevalent were these laws, that it is a wonder white Americans ever heard of the Negro league greats, such as Satchel Paige. Playing ball in a sort of "shadow" world of separate diamonds and games, in a great portion of the nation, the players were also required to use the back of the bus, literally, and to frequent only black restaurants and hotels when on the road. That would have been a significant strike against the Black leagues, but it was worse than that: they were subject to financial problems that probably did as much as anything to keep Negro League Baseball out of the mainstream of American consciousness, unlike boxing which had been integrated -- at least the contenders had -- since well before 1910.

In 1910, Jack Johnson had defeated all the black fighters he had boxed, then all the white fighters he was matched with in smaller venues. Johnson was more than a great boxer who had already captured the heavyweight championship; he was strutting his accomplishments, and thumbing "his nose at the deepest values of the White populace" with a blonde -- a white woman -- on each arm. So, in 1910, to retain his heavyweight championship of the Western World, Johnson had to fight Jim Jeffries, the Great White Hope who was going to trounce Johsnon. It didn't happen; Johnson won. And he kept winning. But in 1915, he was convicted "on dubious testimony" of violating the Mann Act, a sort of federal Jim Crow law, which forbade black men to transport white women across state lines "for immoral purposes," among which was marriage, proscribed virtually state by Jim Crow laws as well. Eventually, Johnson was convinced to 'lose' his championship to a plug fighter in Cuba, return to serve a year and a day on the conviction, and then go on about his life. He did that, even winning against young white boxers when he was in his forties, finally dying in an auto accident in 1946.

Johnson's story is instructive; his biographer contends that it was the Jim Crow laws in his native Texas that had caused Johnson to run away from home before he finished school, learning to fight to survive. It was Jim Crow laws that prevented him from claiming his due as the champion heavyweight boxer of the world. In the end, however, his body was interred in Chicago in a white cemetery that was also the final resting place of Chicago's elite, the Pullmans, Palmers and McCormicks.

This course of events parallels and condenses the result of the Negro Leagues. Having contended with Jim Crow throughout their lives, the players in the Negro Leagues belatedly got their reward, or at least part of one, when about two dozen players fro the Negro Leagues were awarded pensions out of a charitable fund established Major League Baseball. "The league set up a program in 1997 to provide pensions to Negro… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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