Blackballed No More

Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball's color barrier in 1947 — but the color barrier wasn't officially established until the formation of the National League in 1883. Before 1883, there was no rule precluding teams from fielding black players. That's not to say the game wasn't segregated by custom before it became the law — it was. Prejudiced white fans berated black players from the stands, black players were threatened with violence and were even the victims of violent attacks. But there are also instances, even back then, of Americans looking past race to play the game together. A New York newspaper from 1869 records a game between Philadelphia's best white team and best black team, and Moses Fleetwood Walker played catcher for the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association in 1884. But something in the national character changed, and the game, as it always does, reflected the worst in us just as easily as it can reveal the best in us. Blacks and whites couldn't play baseball together at the professional level again until Robinson. But baseball was still played, of course. The Negro Leagues provided a separate professional circuit for black players, while the MLB toiled on as a whites-only league. Pride and Passion: The African American Baseball Experience, a joint exhibition mounted by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and the American Library Association, reveals the history of America's struggles with race and baseball through text and photographs. The exhibit officially opens on Saturday, July 11, at the Central branch of the St. Louis Public Library (1301 Olive Street; 314-241-2288 or www.slpl.org). At 2 p.m., baseball writer Joe Posnanski of the Kansas City Star visits to talk about The Soul of Baseball: A Trip Through Buck O'Neil's America, his book about a summer spent traveling and watching baseball with Negro League legend Buck O'Neil. Admission is free, and Pride and Passion remains on display daily through Friday, August 21.

Pride and Passion: The African-American Baseball Experience, a traveling exhibition for libraries, was organized by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, New York, and the American Library Association Public Programs Office, Chicago. The traveling exhibition has been made possible by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: great ideas brought to life.
July 11-Aug. 21, 2009

 
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