The History of the Negro Leagues

Baseball in the United States has been in existence since the mid-1800’s, and professional baseball first appeared in 1876 as the National League of baseball first appeared. However, the early days of professional baseball was a white only league. This prevented many of the best players of the day from playing in the major leagues.

Despite the fact that African Americans were not able to play in the early days of the major leagues, Negroes still were looking for a place to play. In 1887, the National Colored Baseball League was formed to provide players a place to play. Unfortunately, due to a lack of attendance the league folded a short time late.

During the late 1800’s Negro baseball players were not able to play on major league rosters, and were also prevented from playing in the International League which was the top minor league in baseball. Because of these restrictions, African American players were forced to play in low minor leagues or became barnstorming teams touring the country. In 1895, the Page Fence Giants were formed and became one of the best known touring teams, playing against any and all teams, including the Cincinnati Reds of Major League Baseball.

Beginning in 1920, organizers began to form baseball leagues comprised of African American players. The Negro National League started play in that year, followed by the Negro Southern League and the Eastern Colored League. The formation of organized leagues led to the first Negro World Series in 1924.

However, the Great Depression arrived, crippling the Negro Leagues. The organized leagues ceased operation during the countries financial hardship, leaving individual teams to form and continue with the barnstorming ways.

Beginning in the 1930’s organized baseball started to re-emerge with the Negro Southern League, Negro National League and the Negro American League. The Negro Leagues continued to provide African American players with an opportunity to play baseball, while the Major Leagues continued the practice of segregation.

However, in 1947 segregation in baseball was broken. That was the year that Jackie Robinson was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers, and became the first African American to play in the major leagues. Robinson became the first of many others to follow from the Negro Leagues to the Major Leagues.

Over the course of history of the Negro Leagues many stars were made. Some had an opportunity to go on and play in the Major Leagues. However many others who played in the early days of the Negro Leagues never had the opportunity to play against the best players. The Negro Leagues produced outstanding players such as Jackie Robinson, James “Cool Papa” Bell, Josh Gibson, Andrew “Rube” Foster, Leroy “Satchel” Paige, Smokey Joe Williams and Wild Bill Wright.

The Negro Leagues provided players with a place to place, while they were banned from Major League Baseball. During the era of the Negro Leagues, they produced high quality baseball action and had some of the finest players. Unfortunately, many never had a chance to play in the Major Leagues, but their high quality of play set the stage for Jackie Robinson and subsequent generations of baseball players.

For more information on the Negro Leagues, we have assembled a collection of resources: