October 31, 2011

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By Julia Ferrante

History of Negro Leagues Baseball

[Kansas City Monarchs -- 1945: photo courtesy of Negro Leagues Baseball Museum]

LEWISBURG, Pa. — A traveling exhibit exploring the history of Negro Leagues Baseball will open at Bucknell University Wednesday, Oct. 12, kicking off a series of events exploring America's pastime during the era of segregation.

"Discover Greatness: An Illustrated History of Negro Leagues Baseball," presented by the Kansas City, Mo.,- based Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, comprises about 90 black-and-white photographs documenting African-Americans in baseball from the late 1800s through the 1950s, said Raymond Doswell, vice president of Curatorial Services. The collection focuses on the professional Negro Leagues, which were formed in 1920 and formally ended in 1960.

"The Negro Leagues are an entry into understanding the history of segregation," Doswell said. "The period from the end of the Reconstruction to the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement is not as well covered as slavery or the Harlem Renaissance or the Civil Rights Movement. A 'great migration' of black people from rural to urban areas occurred during this time period. In these urban cultural enclaves, leisure activities such as baseball were very important. Some argue that the integration of baseball was the first crack in the walls of segregation."

Continuing series
Greg Krohn, an associate professor of economics at Bucknell who teaches a class on sports economics, arranged to bring the traveling exhibit to the University along with a series of speakers including Negro League players, historians and Bucknell alumnus Hal Richman, Class of '58 and the inventor of Strat-O-Matic Baseball.

"Through this series of programs, we want to gain a better understanding of what life was like for African- Americans during the segregation era and to honor the accomplishments of Negro Leagues players," Krohn said.

The Discover Greatness exhibit will be on display at the Bertrand Library, Level II, Oct.12 to Nov. 22. Doswell will speak at the opening of the exhibit. [Doswell replaces Bob Kendrick, the previously announced speaker]

Other planned events include:

  • Oct. 19: "Only the Ball Was White" — A Conversation on Black Baseball with Hall of Famer Monte Irvin, at 7 p.m. in the Forum of the Elaine Langone Center. Irvin played in the Negro Leagues from 1938 to 1948 and in Major League Baseball from 1949 to 1956. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in1973 and served as a MLB public relations specialist from 1968 to 1984. Irvin will be joined by Lawrence Hogan, author of Shades of Glory: The Negro Leagues and the Story of African American Baseball.
  • Oct. 24: "The Story of Strat-O-Matic Baseball and the Negro Leagues Players Set" with Hal Richman, Class of '58, inventor of Strat-O-Matic Baseball, at 7 p.m. in the Elaine Langone Center's Center Room (Room 256).  Attendees may play a game with sets of Negro Leagues and Hall of Fame player cards.
  • Nov. 2: "If It Ain't Got That Swing: Black Baseball and Black Music in the Era of the Color Line," with Robert Cvornyek, a professor at Rhode Island College, and historian Lawrence Hogan of Union County College, at 7:30 p.m. in Bucknell Hall. A Jazz at Bucknell concert will follow with music by the Bob Dorough Trio.
  • Nov. 10: "Raceball: How the Major Leagues Colonized the Black and Latin Game," with Robert Ruck of the University of Pittsburgh, author of the book by the same name, at 7 p.m. in the Forum of the Elaine Langone Center.

Discover Greatness
The "Discover Greatness" exhibit, which has been on tour by request since 1993, includes photographs of teams from all over the United States. The collection focuses on several time periods in black baseball history, including 1920 to 1932, the prime period for the Negro Leagues, Doswell said. Although African-American players organized competitions before 1920, the first Negro League was not formed until that year. Later, during the Great Depression, some teams folded. They formed again in the mid 1930s.

From 1933 to 1945, there was talk of integration in baseball, Doswell said, and finally in 1945, Jackie Robinson was recruited as the first black player in the minor leagues. He joined the Dodgers in 1947. It was not until 1959 that every Major League team had at least one African-American or Latino player. A year later, the Negro Leagues as businesses folded.

"Baseball was so popular back then," he said. "When African-Americans joined the teams, it turned out they were pretty darn good at it. So around that time, people began to see that it was a bit ludicrous that they had been excluded. This exhibit shows how we got there."

Contact: Division of Communications



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