Introduction African-American communities across the country. A triumphant moment

Introduction

            On April 10, 1947, second baseman
Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier for Major League Baseball by suiting up
to 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 was
integrating.  It was a moment of great
triumph for the African-American community: a black man was finally able to
play professionally in a white man’s league, paving the way for the integration
in other fields.

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            In the early 1940s, Negro League
Baseball was peaking.  Talent was at an
all-time high, and teams were becoming vital parts of the African-American
communities in the cities they represented. 
With Robinson integrating professional baseball, the decline of the
Negro Leagues was swift.  As Major League
Baseball started to fully integrate, the talent available to Negro League teams
had started to diminish.  In 1950, three
years after Robinson’s arrival in Brooklyn, the Negro Leagues folded. 

            From this, a rather bipolar
situation emerged in African-American communities across the country.  A triumphant moment – Robinson integrating
the Major Leagues – coincided with the demise of a beloved African-American
institution 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 recreational
leagues and would spend summer afternoons at the ballpark (Newman 66), strengthening
community bonds. 

            In order to effectively assess the
emotional status of the African-American communities of the time, perhaps the
most effective way to do so is to examine a specific city.  Pittsburgh was selected because two of the
most historic and important Negro League teams were located in the city or in
its surrounding areas: the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Homestead Grays.  One Pittsburgh newspaper, the
weekly-published Courier, was studied
to gauge the emotional impact of the two polarizing events in baseball that
form the basis of this paper.  The Courier was chosen as the main point of
emphasis due to its status as the city’s main African-American newspaper, and
articles from 1940 to 1950 were analyzed. 
Newspapers such as the Courier effectively
gauged the attitudes of the African-American community at the time.

 

Literature
Review

When Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947,
the writing was on the wall for the future of the Negro Leagues (Effrat
1947).  There was no longer a need for a
separate league for black ballplayers; African-American players that were
deemed worthy were now able to play in Major League Baseball.  It is then important to evaluate the coverage
of this massive racial transition in sports history as it pertains to the
African-American populace as a whole – were newspapers (in this instance, The Pittsburgh Courier) effectively able
to cover the wide range of emotions and shifting attitudes felt by
African-Americans at the time of Robinson’s signing with the Dodgers?

 

Notable Articles Published in The Pittsburgh Courier

In a 1948 article for the Courier, Wendell Smith detailed the sharp decline in quality of
Negro League Baseball since its stars Robinson and Satchel Paige had set out
for the Majors (Smith 1948).  “Negro
baseball is going to be in the same category as Class B minor league teams,”
Smith wrote (Smith 1948).  “It will
exist.  In fact, it must exist.  But the big
money days and the overflow crowd days are gone” (Smith 1948).  At the time, Smith was the most visible and
popular sportswriter at the Courier
(Schall 2011).  His column “The Sports
Beat” carried great weight in the African-American enclave of Pittsburgh
(Schall 2011), and his perspectives of the decline of the Negro Leagues were
likely shared and echoed by these communities.

            Chester L. Washington’s March 1948
column in the Courier also dealt with
the brisk deterioration of the Negro Leagues. 
His article was a rallying cry for the African-American community of
Pittsburgh to fight to save the Homestead Grays and the Negro Leagues in
general: “colored fans must rally to greater support of our Negro baseball
teams.  Despite their faults, we must
help make our Negro Leagues bigger and better. 
And the best way to help them is to make the turnstiles click when they
play in your vicinity” (Washington 1948). 
This was Washington’s attempt to keep the African-American community
engaged and interested in supporting the Negro Leagues; it is also
demonstrative of the lengths publications such as the Courier went to in order to save an African-American institution.

            Interestingly, a November 1945
bulletin published by the sports editorial board at the Courier firmly reaffirmed its support for the Negro Leagues despite
pushing for the color barrier to be broken in baseball.  At the time the article was published, Robinson’s
MLB debut was still nearly two years away, and the Courier wanted to reiterate to the community that they were firmly
committed to covering the city’s Negro Leagues teams.  “The
Pittsburgh Courier, in its intensive campaign to smash the color barriers
in organized major league baseball, does not intend to jeopardize the best
interests of Negro organized baseball in any way” (Courier 1945).  At the time
of the bulletin’s publication, the newspaper had been lobbying for Major League
Baseball to sign Robinson to a contract, a move which appeared to have
generated some questions about the newspaper’s dedication to Pittsburgh’s two
Negro Leagues franchises.  This bulletin
sought to dispel that notion.  In
addition to pushing for individual players breaking the color barrier, the Courier also appeared to endorse the
idea of a close working relationship between Major League Baseball and the
Negro Leagues as well.  “We respectfully
suggest that steps be taken immediately for the Negro Leagues to become
affiliated with organized major league baseball so that an amicable working
arrangement can be consummated” (Courier 1945),
according to the bulletin.  This suggests
that the Courier was looking for a
solution to prolong the lifespan of the Negro Leagues – by affiliating with
Major League Baseball, Negro Leagues franchises would be able to continue to
play 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 to
integrate the populace of United States. 
An article that ran in the Courier
from May 1947 conveyed the newspaper’s sense of urgency in integrating the
country.  The op-ed was forceful in its
tone, and was quite clearly advocating for advancing the rights of
African-Americans in the United States.  However,
it advocated for a slower, slightly more gradual approach to achieving those
goals despite its attention-grabbing language. 
“Rights are what we want and think we have, but white privileges are
what society is disposed to grant us” (Holloway 1947), the piece read.  “We are gaining new privileges that were
previously denied to us; that is to say that society is more disposed than
twenty-five years ago to accept us as adult citizens.  But privileges can be withdrawn as readily as
they are granted, so we must continue to show we merit them” (Holloway
1947).  This op-ed was an attempt to
reach the black community of Pittsburgh and explain the importance of making
progress in race relations.  However,
instead of advocating for extreme action, the newspaper was promoting a
peaceful, levelheaded tactic in order to advance breaking the color barrier at
a national level.

In July 1950, the Courier
ran another article calling for the immediate integration of business
across the country.  Two simple questions
were posed: “Are black people not contending that the walls that once hemmed
us in be torn down?  Are black people
not struggling for the total elimination of segregation and discrimination
based on it?” (Prattis 1950).  The
article cites the integration of baseball as an example of a business that has
effectively integrated; it makes the claim that by forcing companies to
integrate in Pittsburgh and nationwide, businesses would become more profitable
(Prattis 1950).  The Courier served as a mouthpiece to the African-American community in
Pittsburgh; using its platform, the publication demanded equality and used Major
League Baseball as an example of a successful model to emulate when integrating
society.

 

 

Scholarly Research

Carroll’s research concerns the black press’ coverage
of the Negro Leagues.  He emphasizes the
participation of Negro League players in community events (Carroll 187).  Negro League players often contributed to
charity events and raised funds for relevant social causes in their
communities, and black newspapers such as The
Pittsburgh Courier would frequently document this (Carroll 187).  He notes that newspapers such as the Courier were “vital reflectors of
culture and daily life” in the African-American community, adding that these
newspapers should be considered the “primary source” for researching the Negro
Leagues (Carroll 187).

Knopp’s work revolves around the impact of
communities in post-integration Negro League Baseball.  Knopp examines a multitude of factors in his
research into the decline of the Negro Leagues, including the economic impact
of the Negro Leagues’ downfall in black communities across the country (Knopp
2015).  As a case study, he examines the
decline of the Kansas City Monarchs, perhaps the benchmark team of the Negro
Leagues.  After 1947, Negro League teams
had to compete with wealthier, white-owned teams for players; with baseball
integrated, many Major League Baseball teams began signing talented black
players outright with little to no consideration for the Negro Leagues (Knopp
2015), hastening their demise.

            Lanctot explores similar topics and
themes as Knopp in his research of the Negro Leagues.  While Lanctot delves into the internal factors
that led to the demise of the Negro Leagues (most notably the lack of talent
available to Negro League teams), he also looks at the social impact of the fall
of the Negro Leagues (Lanctot 394). 
“Regardless of its flaws, black baseball helped build an irreplaceable
sense of collective solidarity, identity and self-esteem for these
communities,” Lanctot writes (Lanctot 394). 
Furthermore, he cites a quote from former Negro League pitcher Tom
Johnson that delves deeper into this mindset: “the black leagues played a major
role at the social level for our people. 
They provided the entertainment to our communities; they provided an
activity, a wholesome activity” (Lanctot 394). 
This research concerns the feeling of loss and mourning experienced by
communities such as Pittsburgh in the wake of the Negro Leagues’ decline, a
paramount component of this paper’s main objective.

            Newman’s examination expands further
on this topic.  Many African-American
workers migrated to Pittsburgh in the 1930’s to work in the steel mills, the
major revenue stream for the city (Newman 65). 
Within the decade, the African-American population expanded by nearly
30,000 in the city (Newman 65).  Members
of the African-American populace working in the steel mills formed their own
recreational baseball leagues, with residents in the local neighborhoods often
attending these pickup games (Newman 66). 
This created a communal atmosphere in the sport of baseball, which
translated into interest in Pittsburgh’s professional Negro League team, the
Crawfords (named after the Hill’s Crawford Bathhouse, a popular
African-American recreational center where many of the organized steel mill
leagues of the time staged their contests) (Newman 68).  As a result, nearly 7,500 African-Americans
residing in the city of Pittsburgh would flock to Greenlee Field on a nightly
basis to watch the Crawfords play (Newman 68). 
The research performed by Newman establishes the deep roots of baseball
and the African-American community of Pittsburgh; baseball was the tie that
bonded the community together.

 

Methodology

            The research conducted here is of a
historical nature.  To perform this
research effectively, a collection of secondary sources will be utilized
exclusively for this paper.  These
include archived versions of The
Pittsburgh Courier from 1940 to 1950, as well as various articles and books
authored on the subject of the cultural impact of the Negro Leagues.  The years 1940 to 1950 were chosen because of
its significance in the integration process of baseball; within those ten
years, numerous changes occurred within the racial landscape of professional
baseball.  In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke
the color barrier in Major League Baseball. 
However, in order to fully understand the racial makeup and picture of
the time period, it was determined by the researcher that coverage of the Negro
Leagues would need to be examined dating back several years before Robinson’s
integration.  It was then decided that
the entire decade would be the focal point of this research; this research
paper will cease coverage at 1950, the year before the final season of professional
Negro League Baseball.

            To effectively gauge the linkage of
the African-American community and the Negro Leagues in the city of Pittsburgh,
The Pittsburgh Courier would be
examined exclusively due to the fact that it was Pittsburgh’s African-American
community newspaper.  The Pittsburgh Gazette would not be
analyzed and researched for this paper, simply because that publication did not
focus heavily on issues relevant to the African-American community at the
time. 

            The Courier is an effective tool to use when measuring the emotions of
the African-American community during the decline of the Negro Leagues.  The newspaper arguably reached its peak
during the mid-1940’s.  Its circulation hit
an all-time high in May 1947, with 357,000 regular readers (Courier 1960).  It was published on a weekly basis, with
issues being released to the public on Saturdays (Newspapers.com).  This allowed the paper to cover issues
important to the African-American population in the city over the course of the
previous week, making it an ideal newspaper to document the moods and attitudes
of the community at the time.

            To conduct the research, it was
critical to locate a centralized archive of The
Pittsburgh Courier.  This was no simple
task, considering the Courier has not
existed since October 1966.  However, an
extensive 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 reading
on the website; all 480 issues of the Courier
published between 1940 and 1950 were located in full for this project. 

            The paper will not only explore the
sports section of the Courier, which
provided extensive coverage of the Crawfords and the Grays1.  While that will undoubtedly play an integral
role in the research performed, it is crucial for the paper to also focus on
the moods and feelings of the African-American community in the city of
Pittsburgh during the time period as well. 
Various letters to the editor will be featured in this research, as well
as various articles concerning African-American civics issues and events of the
time.  By including such sections of the
newspaper, it is intended that a clearer picture will be portrayed of the
African-American community in Pittsburgh at the time of the Negro Leagues’ rise
and sharp decline post-integration2. 

The historical method of research will be applied in
order to answer the question of whether or not a newspaper can be used as a gauge
of a community’s attitudes on particular issue (in this instance, the
integration of baseball and the concurrent decline of the Negro Leagues).  By applying the historical method, it is the
intent of this paper to show the overall impact of the Negro Leagues and its
overall effect on cities with strong African-American communities, such as the
city of Pittsburgh.

1 From 1940 to 1950, there were 464 references to the
Homestead Grays in The Pittsburgh Courier.  In addition, during this timeframe, there
were 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.