Introduction On April 10, 1947, second basemanJackie Robinson broke the color barrier for Major League Baseball by suiting upto play for the Brooklyn Dodgers (Effrat 1947). This was a historic moment for baseball, sports, and America as a whole– the foremost professional sports organization of the time wasintegrating. It was a moment of greattriumph for the African-American community: a black man was finally able toplay professionally in a white man’s league, paving the way for the integrationin other fields. In the early 1940s, Negro LeagueBaseball was peaking. Talent was at anall-time high, and teams were becoming vital parts of the African-Americancommunities in the cities they represented. With Robinson integrating professional baseball, the decline of theNegro Leagues was swift.
As Major LeagueBaseball started to fully integrate, the talent available to Negro League teamshad started to diminish. In 1950, threeyears after Robinson’s arrival in Brooklyn, the Negro Leagues folded. From this, a rather bipolarsituation emerged in African-American communities across the country.
A triumphant moment – Robinson integratingthe Major Leagues – coincided with the demise of a beloved African-Americaninstitution that had existed for decades. For African-Americans, the Negro Leagues were more than just a sport –it was a cultural bedrock. Traditionally,entire neighborhoods would gather to play the sport in local recreationalleagues and would spend summer afternoons at the ballpark (Newman 66), strengtheningcommunity bonds. In order to effectively assess theemotional status of the African-American communities of the time, perhaps themost effective way to do so is to examine a specific city. Pittsburgh was selected because two of themost historic and important Negro League teams were located in the city or inits surrounding areas: the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Homestead Grays. One Pittsburgh newspaper, theweekly-published Courier, was studiedto gauge the emotional impact of the two polarizing events in baseball thatform the basis of this paper.
The Courier was chosen as the main point ofemphasis due to its status as the city’s main African-American newspaper, andarticles from 1940 to 1950 were analyzed. Newspapers such as the Courier effectivelygauged the attitudes of the African-American community at the time. LiteratureReviewWhen Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947,the writing was on the wall for the future of the Negro Leagues (Effrat1947). There was no longer a need for aseparate league for black ballplayers; African-American players that weredeemed worthy were now able to play in Major League Baseball. It is then important to evaluate the coverageof this massive racial transition in sports history as it pertains to theAfrican-American populace as a whole – were newspapers (in this instance, The Pittsburgh Courier) effectively ableto cover the wide range of emotions and shifting attitudes felt byAfrican-Americans at the time of Robinson’s signing with the Dodgers? Notable Articles Published in The Pittsburgh CourierIn a 1948 article for the Courier, Wendell Smith detailed the sharp decline in quality ofNegro League Baseball since its stars Robinson and Satchel Paige had set outfor the Majors (Smith 1948). “Negrobaseball is going to be in the same category as Class B minor league teams,”Smith wrote (Smith 1948). “It willexist. In fact, it must exist.
But the bigmoney days and the overflow crowd days are gone” (Smith 1948). At the time, Smith was the most visible andpopular sportswriter at the Courier(Schall 2011). His column “The SportsBeat” carried great weight in the African-American enclave of Pittsburgh(Schall 2011), and his perspectives of the decline of the Negro Leagues werelikely shared and echoed by these communities. Chester L. Washington’s March 1948column in the Courier also dealt withthe brisk deterioration of the Negro Leagues.
His article was a rallying cry for the African-American community ofPittsburgh to fight to save the Homestead Grays and the Negro Leagues ingeneral: “colored fans must rally to greater support of our Negro baseballteams. Despite their faults, we musthelp make our Negro Leagues bigger and better. And the best way to help them is to make the turnstiles click when theyplay in your vicinity” (Washington 1948). This was Washington’s attempt to keep the African-American communityengaged and interested in supporting the Negro Leagues; it is alsodemonstrative of the lengths publications such as the Courier went to in order to save an African-American institution. Interestingly, a November 1945bulletin published by the sports editorial board at the Courier firmly reaffirmed its support for the Negro Leagues despitepushing for the color barrier to be broken in baseball. At the time the article was published, Robinson’sMLB debut was still nearly two years away, and the Courier wanted to reiterate to the community that they were firmlycommitted to covering the city’s Negro Leagues teams.
“ThePittsburgh Courier, in its intensive campaign to smash the color barriersin organized major league baseball, does not intend to jeopardize the bestinterests of Negro organized baseball in any way” (Courier 1945). At the timeof the bulletin’s publication, the newspaper had been lobbying for Major LeagueBaseball to sign Robinson to a contract, a move which appeared to havegenerated some questions about the newspaper’s dedication to Pittsburgh’s twoNegro Leagues franchises. This bulletinsought to dispel that notion. Inaddition to pushing for individual players breaking the color barrier, the Courier also appeared to endorse theidea of a close working relationship between Major League Baseball and theNegro Leagues as well. “We respectfullysuggest that steps be taken immediately for the Negro Leagues to becomeaffiliated with organized major league baseball so that an amicable workingarrangement can be consummated” (Courier 1945),according to the bulletin. This suggeststhat the Courier was looking for asolution to prolong the lifespan of the Negro Leagues – by affiliating withMajor League Baseball, Negro Leagues franchises would be able to continue toplay a role in the communities they had grown to become integral parts of. In the 1940s, The Pittsburgh Courier was on the front lines in the fight tointegrate the populace of United States.
An article that ran in the Courierfrom May 1947 conveyed the newspaper’s sense of urgency in integrating thecountry. The op-ed was forceful in itstone, and was quite clearly advocating for advancing the rights ofAfrican-Americans in the United States. However,it advocated for a slower, slightly more gradual approach to achieving thosegoals despite its attention-grabbing language.
“Rights are what we want and think we have, but white privileges arewhat society is disposed to grant us” (Holloway 1947), the piece read. “We are gaining new privileges that werepreviously denied to us; that is to say that society is more disposed thantwenty-five years ago to accept us as adult citizens. But privileges can be withdrawn as readily asthey are granted, so we must continue to show we merit them” (Holloway1947).
This op-ed was an attempt toreach the black community of Pittsburgh and explain the importance of makingprogress in race relations. However,instead of advocating for extreme action, the newspaper was promoting apeaceful, levelheaded tactic in order to advance breaking the color barrier ata national level.In July 1950, the Courierran another article calling for the immediate integration of businessacross the country. Two simple questionswere posed: “Are black people not contending that the walls that once hemmedus in be torn down? Are black peoplenot struggling for the total elimination of segregation and discriminationbased on it?” (Prattis 1950). Thearticle cites the integration of baseball as an example of a business that haseffectively integrated; it makes the claim that by forcing companies tointegrate in Pittsburgh and nationwide, businesses would become more profitable(Prattis 1950). The Courier served as a mouthpiece to the African-American community inPittsburgh; using its platform, the publication demanded equality and used MajorLeague Baseball as an example of a successful model to emulate when integratingsociety.
Scholarly ResearchCarroll’s research concerns the black press’ coverageof the Negro Leagues. He emphasizes theparticipation of Negro League players in community events (Carroll 187). Negro League players often contributed tocharity events and raised funds for relevant social causes in theircommunities, and black newspapers such as ThePittsburgh Courier would frequently document this (Carroll 187). He notes that newspapers such as the Courier were “vital reflectors ofculture and daily life” in the African-American community, adding that thesenewspapers should be considered the “primary source” for researching the NegroLeagues (Carroll 187). Knopp’s work revolves around the impact ofcommunities in post-integration Negro League Baseball. Knopp examines a multitude of factors in hisresearch into the decline of the Negro Leagues, including the economic impactof the Negro Leagues’ downfall in black communities across the country (Knopp2015). As a case study, he examines thedecline of the Kansas City Monarchs, perhaps the benchmark team of the NegroLeagues. After 1947, Negro League teamshad to compete with wealthier, white-owned teams for players; with baseballintegrated, many Major League Baseball teams began signing talented blackplayers outright with little to no consideration for the Negro Leagues (Knopp2015), hastening their demise.
Lanctot explores similar topics andthemes as Knopp in his research of the Negro Leagues. While Lanctot delves into the internal factorsthat led to the demise of the Negro Leagues (most notably the lack of talentavailable to Negro League teams), he also looks at the social impact of the fallof the Negro Leagues (Lanctot 394). “Regardless of its flaws, black baseball helped build an irreplaceablesense of collective solidarity, identity and self-esteem for thesecommunities,” Lanctot writes (Lanctot 394). Furthermore, he cites a quote from former Negro League pitcher TomJohnson that delves deeper into this mindset: “the black leagues played a majorrole at the social level for our people.
They provided the entertainment to our communities; they provided anactivity, a wholesome activity” (Lanctot 394). This research concerns the feeling of loss and mourning experienced bycommunities such as Pittsburgh in the wake of the Negro Leagues’ decline, aparamount component of this paper’s main objective. Newman’s examination expands furtheron this topic. Many African-Americanworkers migrated to Pittsburgh in the 1930’s to work in the steel mills, themajor revenue stream for the city (Newman 65). Within the decade, the African-American population expanded by nearly30,000 in the city (Newman 65).
Membersof the African-American populace working in the steel mills formed their ownrecreational baseball leagues, with residents in the local neighborhoods oftenattending these pickup games (Newman 66). This created a communal atmosphere in the sport of baseball, whichtranslated into interest in Pittsburgh’s professional Negro League team, theCrawfords (named after the Hill’s Crawford Bathhouse, a popularAfrican-American recreational center where many of the organized steel millleagues of the time staged their contests) (Newman 68). As a result, nearly 7,500 African-Americansresiding in the city of Pittsburgh would flock to Greenlee Field on a nightlybasis to watch the Crawfords play (Newman 68). The research performed by Newman establishes the deep roots of baseballand the African-American community of Pittsburgh; baseball was the tie thatbonded the community together. Methodology The research conducted here is of ahistorical nature.
To perform thisresearch effectively, a collection of secondary sources will be utilizedexclusively for this paper. Theseinclude archived versions of ThePittsburgh Courier from 1940 to 1950, as well as various articles and booksauthored on the subject of the cultural impact of the Negro Leagues. The years 1940 to 1950 were chosen because ofits significance in the integration process of baseball; within those tenyears, numerous changes occurred within the racial landscape of professionalbaseball. In 1947, Jackie Robinson brokethe color barrier in Major League Baseball. However, in order to fully understand the racial makeup and picture ofthe time period, it was determined by the researcher that coverage of the NegroLeagues would need to be examined dating back several years before Robinson’sintegration.
It was then decided thatthe entire decade would be the focal point of this research; this researchpaper will cease coverage at 1950, the year before the final season of professionalNegro League Baseball. To effectively gauge the linkage ofthe African-American community and the Negro Leagues in the city of Pittsburgh,The Pittsburgh Courier would beexamined exclusively due to the fact that it was Pittsburgh’s African-Americancommunity newspaper. The Pittsburgh Gazette would not beanalyzed and researched for this paper, simply because that publication did notfocus heavily on issues relevant to the African-American community at thetime.
The Courier is an effective tool to use when measuring the emotions ofthe African-American community during the decline of the Negro Leagues. The newspaper arguably reached its peakduring the mid-1940’s. Its circulation hitan all-time high in May 1947, with 357,000 regular readers (Courier 1960). It was published on a weekly basis, withissues being released to the public on Saturdays (Newspapers.com). This allowed the paper to cover issuesimportant to the African-American population in the city over the course of theprevious week, making it an ideal newspaper to document the moods and attitudesof the community at the time. To conduct the research, it wascritical to locate a centralized archive of ThePittsburgh Courier. This was no simpletask, considering the Courier has notexisted since October 1966.
However, anextensive archive containing every issue of the Courier was located on an online newspaper database(Newspapers.com). Each issue of the Courier has been digitalized for readingon the website; all 480 issues of the Courierpublished between 1940 and 1950 were located in full for this project.
The paper will not only explore thesports section of the Courier, whichprovided extensive coverage of the Crawfords and the Grays1. While that will undoubtedly play an integralrole in the research performed, it is crucial for the paper to also focus onthe moods and feelings of the African-American community in the city ofPittsburgh during the time period as well. Various letters to the editor will be featured in this research, as wellas various articles concerning African-American civics issues and events of thetime. By including such sections of thenewspaper, it is intended that a clearer picture will be portrayed of theAfrican-American community in Pittsburgh at the time of the Negro Leagues’ riseand sharp decline post-integration2. The historical method of research will be applied inorder to answer the question of whether or not a newspaper can be used as a gaugeof a community’s attitudes on particular issue (in this instance, theintegration of baseball and the concurrent decline of the Negro Leagues). By applying the historical method, it is theintent of this paper to show the overall impact of the Negro Leagues and itsoverall effect on cities with strong African-American communities, such as thecity of Pittsburgh.
1 From 1940 to 1950, there were 464 references to theHomestead Grays in The Pittsburgh Courier. In addition, during this timeframe, therewere 744 references to the Pittsburgh Crawfords in the Courier.2 From 1940 to 1950, The Pittsburgh Courier referenced “baseball” 1,567 times. “Integration” was mentioned 671 times, and”Jackie Robinson” is referenced 1,051 times.