On February 13, 1920, the Negro National League (NNL) was founded by Rube Foster. In February 1920, African American team owners met at a YMCA in Kansas City to discuss the possibility of organizing the many independent teams into an organized league. Due to Foster’s persistence, an agreement was signed to create the NNL 96 years ago today.
Segregation in the United States after the Civil War kept Blacks and African Americans from signing with Major League Baseball teams. According to the National Baseball Hall of Fame:
When baseball first became organized in the 1860s, a small handful of African-American players took the diamond alongside their white teammates. But with Jim Crow laws and prevalent segregationist sentiment still left over from the Civil War, the careers of talented African Americans like Moses Fleetwood Walker, Bud Fowler and Frank Grant were short-lived. By the turn of the 20th century, unwritten rules and “gentleman’s agreements” between owners had effectively shut black ballplayers out of big league competition.
Still craving a means to play, African Americans formed their own teams and barnstormed across the country to find competition.
Though Black players established their own teams, their access to ball fields and ticket revenues were controlled by booking agents. At one point Foster stated, “we will always be the underdog until we can successfully employ the methods that have brought success to the great powers that be in baseball of the present era: organization.”
The charter members of the league were the Chicago American Giants (owned by player-manager Rube Foster), Detroit Stars, Kansas City Monarchs, Indianapolis ABCs, St. Louis Giants, Cuban Stars, Dayton Marcos, and Chicago Giants. Several teams were members of the NNL at various times in its 11-year history, including the Milwaukee Bears, the Birmingham Black Barons, and the Memphis Red Sox. The NNL played until 1931 when the financial difficulties caused by the Great Depression led to its demise.
While the Negro National League was the first to successfully organize, it was not the only Negro League. Some leagues and teams were more successful than others. As we continue to celebrate African American History Month, I will highlight a few of the teams and players of the Negro Leagues over the next two weeks.
Happy Birthday, NNL!