Exhibit tells story of African-American Baseball
Pride & Passion: The African-American Baseball Experience, a traveling exhibition at the Central Library downtown, examines the challenges faced by African-American baseball players as they sought equal opportunities in their sport beginning in the post-Civil War era.
In the 1880s, more than 30 African-Americans were on teams in baseball’s major and minor leagues. But opportunities diminished as Reconstruction after the Civil War ended, and segregation became entrenched as part of American culture.
During the 1887 season, league owners agreed to make no new contracts with African-American players. From that time on, until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, baseball was a segregated sport.
In response, more than 200 independent all-black teams organized and barnstormed around the country, developing a reputation for a fast-running, power-hitting game. By the 1920s, black baseball had its own successful professional leagues. Negro league baseball grew into a multimillion-dollar enterprise and a focus of great pride in the African-American community.
Legendary figures such as Rube Foster, Buck Leonard, Oscar Charleston, James “Cool Papa” Bell, Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige thrilled audiences, and helped pave the way for integration of the major leagues in the mid-20th century.
In 1971, Satchel Paige became the first player inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame based solely on his performance in the Negro leagues. In the years that followed, more than 35 players and managers from such powerhouse Negro league teams as the Chicago American Giants, Kansas City Monarchs, St. Louis Stars, Pittsburgh Crawfords and Homestead Grays have been voted into the Hall of Fame.
Players in the Negro leagues were some of the most talented and inspiring sports figures of their day. This exhibition shows that, in spite of segregation, black players helped advance the game of baseball in many ways.
The Kansas City Monarchs, a Negro league team, were the first to develop a successful lighting system for night games, five years before Major League Baseball played its first night game. They carried their own generators and light stands with them on the road. The exhibition tells many more remarkable stories of players and teams who were shut out of major league baseball, but persevered in a sport they loved.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and the American Library Association Public Programs Office organized the traveling exhibition, which was made possible by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: great ideas brought to life.
The traveling exhibition is based upon an exhibition of the same name on permanent display at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Multnomah County Library will supplement this travelling exhibition with local memorabilia that celebrates the contributions of Oregon baseball players throughout the years.
The library is sponsoring free programs and other events for the public in connection with the exhibition. For more information, visit multcolib.org. The exhibition will be on display at the library until Jan. 22.