Muhammad Ali brashly and unapologetically earned his place upon the world’s stage in the tulmetnous 1960s for his exploits in the ring and for being a champion of religious freedom and an anti-war protester. Jesse Owens demonstrated ability and class in the 1936 Olympics held at Berlin, denying Hitler the satisfaction that his German athletes would dominate track and field events simply due to Aryan blood flowing through their veins.
Rightfully so, Ali and Owens, as well as other black athletes such as: Jackie Robinson, Jim Brown, Bill Russell, and Wilma Rudolph receive tremendous praise throughout the country and sporting world. And with February being Black History Month, these historic figures are again asserted into the national conscious as the country observes the history of blacks in America.
Yet, unlike these largely-celebrated figures, a seemingly overlooked group of black athletes has been somewhat forgotten. And these are athletes who played in the legendary Negro League. To combat this fight to save the memory of the Negro League, the Negro League Museum in Kansas City has provided a graceful haven where, like the history they seek to preserve, offers a distinct outlook on baseball.
Before Jackie Robinson courageously stepped on Ebbets Field in 1947, the Negro League offered black and Spanish-speaking players the highest level of baseball from 1920-1960. With a “gentleman’s agreement” between owners to keep players of color off their teams, many of the best black players of the period have tragically been forgotten from baseball lore.
The skills of baseball players like Josh Gibson and Oscar Charleston are only memories and forgotten rumors. Yet, the Negro League Museum, “through an amazing collection of artifacts, text panels, interactive computers and video have helped visitors understand how the Negro Leagues help spark social change in America.”
In an interview with Bob Kendrick, President of the Negro League Museum, Kendrick touched upon the museum’s top priority to remember these pioneers.
“The NLBM was created to essentially save a forgotten chapter of baseball and Americana from going extinct. Because American historians had virtually ignored this important piece of history, this powerful story of pride, passion and perseverance was on the verge of dying when the last Negro Leaguer passed away” Kendrick said. “The NLBM immerged to ensure that their legacy plays on and to shed light on one of the most important stories in the annals of American history.”
The Negro National League was created in 1920 by Andrew “Rube” Foster, who would become one of the most influential administrative figures in the history of the league. The baseball league fostered an environment where the sport was not debased by racism unlike Major League Baseball. And the league flourished, hoisting World Series and All-Star games like their Major League counterpart as well as furthering the careers of legends such as Robinson, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Roy Campanella.
And even though the majority white public mostly neglected the feats of the Negro League, some took notice. And according to Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio, Satchel Paige, widely considered the best pitcher in the Negro League, was the “best I’ve ever faced, and the fastest.” And the Negro League Museum is an establishment which, like DiMaggio, wants the national populace to acknowledge the artistry of the Negro Leagues. And Kendrick touched upon the creation of an insitute for this duty.
“The establishment of the NLBM was the brainchild of the late Horace Peterson, who was the founder of the Black Archives of Mid-America. Peterson approached the late, great ‘Buck’ O’Neil about the idea of building a Negro League’s Hall of Fame” Kendrick said. “Buck persuaded Peterson to move away from the notion of a separate Hall of Fame but to instead collaborate to build a Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.”
The museum features three prominent events throughout the year, and this includes: Hall of Fame Inductions, Heart of America Hot Dog Festival and Buck O’Neil’s Birthday Celebration. Along with six national demonstrations which are exhibited throughout national museums, the Negro League Museum will be featuring two new problems in 2016. Titled, “Jazz & Jackie” and “Barrier Breakers,” the two programs will highlight Robinson’s career in the Negro League and MLB’s integration respectively.
With a long-standing relationship with MLB, which helps in the programs of the museum, the NLBM “encourages individuals who have a passion for history and baseball to join [their] growing team of NLBM members” to learn about the history of the Negro Leagues.