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Commemorating the Centennial of the Negro Baseball Leagues

Submitted by Xiaoshun Zeng on December 4, 2020 - 11:38am
Photo of Buck O’Neil courtesy of the Negro League Baseball Museum

On December 2, the Department of History hosted a virtual panel—“Commemorating the Centennial of the Negro Leagues: Racial Justice, Professional Baseball, and American Society”—to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the Negro Leagues in professional baseball.

The event featured a stellar lineup of speakers, including Mr. Alvin Davis, former MLB first baseman and Seattle Mariners player; Dr. Raymond Doswell, Vice President of the Negro League Baseball Museum (NLBM), Inc.; Dr. Leslie Heaphy, Associate Professor of History at Kent State University, Stark; Dr. Louis Moore, Associate Professor of History at Grand Valley State University; and Mr. Dave Sims, play-by-play sports commentator for the Seattle Mariners. Professor Emeritus Quintard Taylor moderated the panel, and Department Chair Glennys Young delivered an opening remark.

Founded by Andrew “Rube” Foster in 1920, the Negro National League emerged at a time when African Americans were excluded from high-ranking professional baseball due to racial segregation. Negro League baseball thrived in the 1920s and again after the Great Depression, until it eventually folded towards the end of 1950. On December 16, 2020, the MLB retrospectively elevated the Negro Leagues operated from 1920 through 1948 to major-league status.

Drawing on their diverse expertise, panelists discussed broadly what the Negro Leagues meant for the quest for racial justice in American society, and for the history of professional sports. “The Negro Leagues were so much more than baseball,” said Dr. Moore, who emphasized that in his research he has “used black athletes as a window to tell the story of American history.” Dr. Heaphy, author of a highly-reviewed book The Negro Leagues, 1869-1960, gave a presentation on Negro Leagues’ barnstorming. “Looking at the history of Negro Leagues, we see every aspect of American history,” she remarked.

During the Q&A session, speakers shared thoughts on the 1976 movie The Bingo Long Travelling All-Stars and Motor Kings, and analyzed how the movie had misrepresented important aspects of the history of the Negro Leagues. Finally, panelists discussed the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on black baseball, and further reflected on what remains to be done to end systemic racism in baseball, and the significance of this work beyond the stadium and off the field.

“My hope is that we can be part of leading the change in America," said Dr. Doswell when talking about the mission of Negro League Baseball Museum, "if sports can help in leading that change, the baseball museum is here for it.”

This panel was sponsored by the UW Department of History, the History Diversity Committee, and BlackPast.org. The BlackPast.org, an online reference center founded by Professor Quintard Taylor, launched a dedicated page for the Negro Baseball Leagues.

The event was recorded and made available to the public on the Department of History YouTube channel. 

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