The National Negro League (NNL) was established on this day in 1920 by Rube Foster. When baseball was first organized in the UnitedStates with the Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1869 there were a few blacks players that played alongside whites but their careers were short-lived. In order for Black players to receive the recognition that they deserved for their talent a space had to be created for them, especially within the current climate of the united states. Foster, now known as the “father of black baseball” was born in Texas on September 17, 1879 to Reverend Andrew Foster. Rube Foster dropped out of school in the 8th grade to pursue a baseball career. He was initially popular for his tall, large frame and began playing for the Waco Yellow Jackets where he encountered racism as an African-American pitcher. He moved up north from Texas to play for the Chicago Union Giants. While playing for the giants he won 44 consecutive games, contributing to the teams status as one of the top Black teams in the country. By 1903 Foster spent a season playing for the Cuban X-Giants, ending with a 54-1 record. That following year in 1904 he played with the Philadelphia Giants.
Baseball Player Elevated Baseball Manager
In 1907 Foster joined Chicago’s Leland Giants as a manager and player on the team. His organizing skills led to his forming is own team, the Chicago American Giants, as he shifted his role to less playing and more organizing he helped to establish the National Negro League, serving as the president and treasurer. “Gentleman’s agreements” established between baseball team owners barred blacks from big league competition and the NNL offered players like Cool Papa Bell, Martín Dihigo, Bill Foster, Judy Johnson, Satchel Paige and Turkey Stearnes the visibility that contributed to their legendary status today.
The establishment of the NNL came out of risk that Foster took to step out of being a baseball player managing his own team. This is a call that many of us avoid today, we see the source of a problem and shy away from being the solution, hoping that someone else will take it on. There is a reason why we notice the problems that we come across and for those who come across a problem that are blessed with a solution, they have the responsibility of organizing that solution into fruition. It is a disservice to not only the individual, but also their community, when one refuses to take the lead on solving a problem. As we can see Foster took the step to solve the problem, and as we overcome one obstacle the next arrises.
White Booking Agents Limited the NNL
Although the black teams grew large crowds throughout the early 1900s, they were tightly controlled by white booking agents who dictated when black teams could play and paid very little of the games revenues to the teams’ owners. Although they achieved relative financial success, owners and players were being mistreated by booking agents. It’s interesting to see how this is a trend that continues today, the wealth that circulates in Black business ownership is still controlled by whites. In a white dominated world it can be difficult to escape this structural limitation. Although black baseball players were able to elevate themselves increasing their visibility by creating a new baseball league catering to African Americans, they could not escape the discrimination and prejudice by white booking agents that controlled their movement and schedule of games. I wonder today if it would have been possible in that time to open up a place for Blacks to work in the role of booking agents, however I understand that they may have been completely barred from this position.
During the 1921 season Foster’s American Giants drew nearly 200,000 spectators. Although the number of teams and spectators were growing in number the financial hardships of the Great Depression forced nearly every colored baseball league, including the NNL, to shut down by Although the league did not live long baseball writer Steven Goldman defends its existence, “The leagues died having served their purpose shining a light on African-American ball players at a time when the white majors simply did not want to know.” The NNL not only gave black players more visibility, but it gave experienced black organizers the opportunity to step into leadership roles like team owners, organization presidents, treasurers and directors. The creation of Black organization elevates blacks at all levels.