Collection Spotlight: Highlights from the Negro Leagues

By Chris M. RSS Fri, April 19, 2024

Baseball: for over a century, the game has been known as "America’s favorite pastime." During the early parts of the 20th century, tuning in to a baseball game on the radio after a long day at work became a ritual of the American working class, beloved by citizens of all races. But while Black citizens loved baseball, the Major and Minor Leagues did not return the sentiment.

Following the conclusion of the Civil War and amidst Reconstruction, former Black soldiers formed their own baseball communities in the eastern regions of the United States. Despite the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, and despite other initiatives taken to help better integrate Black citizens into society, segregation was still common across the country. Black baseball players were not accepted in the prestigious Major League Baseball League and its affiliated Minor Leagues for decades, so the Negro Leagues were formed behind this "color line.” While the players of the Negro Leagues had much lower salaries compared to mainstream baseball leagues, they were able to amass a following over the years. Stadiums would sell out as spectators lined up to see players such as Josh Gibson, Ray Dandridge, Leon Day, and other stars.


Black and white lineup of Negro League baseball team from 1924

1924 photo of the Kansas City Monarchs and Hilldale Athletic Club at the first game of the first Colored World Series


Eventually, the talent present in the Negro Leagues caught the attention of Major League Baseball executives. Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey was the first to integrate Black ballplayers into Major League Baseball when he signed Kansas City Monarch Jackie Robinson in 1947. Robinson’s breaking of the color barrier not only represented desegregation in baseball but was also a critical step in reducing segregation in all areas of the country.

Check out the display cases just outside the Social Science and History Department in Room 201 at Parkway Central Library to have a glimpse of some of the highlights of the Negro Leagues. Learn about some of the star players and standout teams through photos in books and newspaper articles covering that time.

To learn more about the history of the Negro Leagues, check out some of the materials in our catalog:


The Encyclopedia of Negro League Baseball

The Encyclopedia of Negro League Baseball chronicles the times, the teams, the players and managers, the stadiums, the sportswriters, and the unique stories that make Negro league baseball such a significant part of the history of the sport and of American culture.

When the Game was Black and White: The Illustrated History of the Negro Leagues

When the Game was Black and White traces the history of the Negro baseball leagues, offers profiles of top players and their accomplishments, and shares the memories of players and fans.

Invisible Men: Life in Baseball’s Negro Leagues

Although their games were ignored by white-owned newspapers and radio stations, Black ballplayers became folk heroes in cities such as Chicago, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York, and Washington DC, where the teams drew large crowds and became major contributors to the local community life. This memorable narrative, filled with the memories of many surviving Negro League players, pulls the veil off these "invisible men" who were forced into the segregated leagues. What emerges is a glorious chapter in African American history and an often overlooked aspect of our American past.

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I have written extensively about the storied Negro Leagues and its players and coaches. My favorite book is "Only the Ball Was White." Great "Collection Spotlight" article. I will include the Free Library showcases in my weekly events' column for FunTimes Magazine (, so people, young and older, can enjoy the glory of the unheralded players who slipped through the cracks of history.
Randall Giancaterino - Philadelphia
Tuesday, May 7, 2024