African-Americans began to play baseball in the late 1800s on
military teams, college teams, and company teams. They eventually
found their way to professional teams with white players. Moses
Fleetwood Walker and Bud Fowler were among the first to participate.
However, racism and “Jim Crow” laws would force
them from these teams by 1900. Thus, black players formed their
own units, “barnstorming” around the country to
play anyone who would challenge them.
In 1920, an organized league structure was formed under the
guidance of Andrew “Rube” Foster—a former
player, manager, and owner for the Chicago American Giants.
In a meeting held at the Paseo YMCA in Kansas City, Mo., Foster
and a few other Midwestern team owners joined to form the Negro
National League. Soon, rival leagues formed in Eastern and Southern
states, bringing the thrills and innovative play of black baseball
to major urban centers and rural country sides in the U.S.,
Canada, and Latin America. The Leagues maintained a high level
of professional skill and became centerpieces for economic development
in many black communities.
In 1945, Major League Baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers recruited
Jackie Robinson from the Kansas City Monarchs. Robinson now
becomes the first African-American in the modern era to play
on a Major League roster.
While this historic event was a key moment in baseball and civil
rights history, it prompted the decline of the Negro Leagues.
The best black players were now recruited for the Major Leagues,
and black fans followed.
The last Negro Leagues teams folded in the early 1960s, but
their legacy lives on through the surviving players and the
Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.