St. Louis Giants, 1916
The “Negro leagues” were organized circuits for professional Black baseball teams, functioning most successfully between 1920 through the 1940s in the United States’ East, Midwest, and South.
After the American Civil War, baseball became increasingly popular in the United States, and professional teams and leagues began to emerge. Initially, there were some instances of racially integrated teams and leagues, but by the turn of the 19th century, racism had led to total segregation in organized baseball circuits.
The first professional Black baseball team in the U.S. was the Cuban Giants, formed in 1885. Black teams barnstormed around the country (and internationally) to play baseball. Although professional white leagues had become segregated, Black teams competed not only against each other but also against local white teams of all levels in non-league games.
In 1920, Rube Foster organized the first successful professional Black baseball league–the Negro National League (1920-1931)–with 8 initial teams. It was followed a few years later by Ed Bolden’s Eastern Colored League (1923-1928).
The economic hardships of the Great Depression caused a decline in Black professional baseball, but the game saw a resurgence in the 1930s and ‘40s. New leagues were created during this time, most notably a new Negro National League (1933-1948) and the Negro American League (1937-1960). The most anticipated game each year was the East-West All-Star Game (1933-1948), which attracted tens of thousands of fans to Chicago’s Comiskey Park. Also popular was the Negro World Series (1924-27, 1942-48).
The Black baseball leagues were home to incredibly talented players, such as Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, “Cool Papa” Bell, Buck Leonard, Martín Dihigo, “Turkey” Stearnes, and Oscar Charleston–among many others. Although the leagues were primarily composed of Black American men, there were some Latin Americans as well as a few women (such as Toni Stone).
Teams in this era included the Kansas City Monarchs, Homestead Grays, Birmingham Black Barons, New York Cubans, and many more.
Although Black players were competing at the highest skill level, they were barred from Major League Baseball because of race. This started to change in 1947, when Jackie Robinson debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Other MLB teams began signing Black players as well, eventually draining top talent from Black teams. By 1966, the Indianapolis Clowns were the sole Black team remaining, until they finally folded in 1989.
Learn more about “Negro Leagues” Baseball through historical newspapers from our archives. Explore newspaper articles, headlines, images, and other primary sources below.
Articles and Clippings about “Negro Leagues” Baseball
Account of Rube Foster pitching for the Philadelphia Giants in a 1904 game Tue, Jul 26, 1904 – 5 · The Morning Post (Camden, New Jersey) · Newspapers.comPhotos of Rube Foster published in a 1912 newspaper Wed, Oct 30, 1912 – 32 · The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) · Newspapers.comManagers of Black baseball teams will meet in Kansas City to organize circuit, 1920 Sat, Feb 14, 1920 – Page 6 · The Tulsa Star (Tulsa, Oklahoma) · Newspapers.comSpotlight on Norman "Turkey" Stearnes, who will play with the Knoxville Giants, 1920 Sun, Sep 5, 1920 – 54 · The Journal and Tribune (Knoxville, Tennessee) · Newspapers.comOscar Charleston (manager of Harrisburg Giants) is called "most popular ball player in the country" Sat, Oct 3, 1925 – Page 14 · The Pittsburgh Courier (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com1926 interview with Rube Foster about his early baseball years Sat, Jan 16, 1926 – Page 12 · The Pittsburgh Courier (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comBallot for fans to vote on the players and batting order for the 1933 East-West All-Star Game Sat, Aug 12, 1933 – Page 14 · The Pittsburgh Courier (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comPhoto of Satchel Paige published in 1934 newspaper after an East-West game Sat, Sep 1, 1934 – Page 14 · The Pittsburgh Courier (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com1936 photo and article about Martín Dihigo of the Negro National League's New York Cubans Sat, Mar 7, 1936 – Page 15 · The Pittsburgh Courier (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comList of Black baseball players batting .300 or higher, 1937 Sat, Jul 10, 1937 – Page 17 · The Pittsburgh Courier (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com1937 newspaper photo of "Cool Papa" Bell published while playing for a Dominican Republic team Wed, Jul 21, 1937 – 17 · Quad-City Times (Davenport, Iowa) · Newspapers.comEditorial with opinion that Black "teams should not be allowed to play in a tournament with whites" Mon, Aug 9, 1937 – Page 5 · Pampa Daily News (Pampa, Texas) · Newspapers.com1938 newspaper spotlight on Buck Leonard Sat, Jul 23, 1938 – Page 16 · The Pittsburgh Courier (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com1938 newspaper article titled "Big Leagues Ignore Colored Aces" Sun, Sep 11, 1938 – 172 · Daily News (New York, New York) · Newspapers.comRandy Dixon writes in 1939 about what he considers to be some of the best Black baseball teams Sat, May 27, 1939 – Page 16 · The Pittsburgh Courier (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comPittsburgh Pirates players give their opinions on the "color ban" in major league baseball, 1939 Sat, Sep 2, 1939 – Page 16 · The Pittsburgh Courier (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comWendell Smith lists some of the Black baseball players he considers major league level, 1942 Sat, Aug 15, 1942 – Page 17 · The Pittsburgh Courier (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com1943 photo of Negro National League executives, including Abe Manley, Ed Bolden & Cum Posey Sat, Jan 30, 1943 – Page 17 · The Pittsburgh Courier (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comSatchel Paige talks about his early baseball career and describes playing against Josh Gibson Sat, May 8, 1943 – Page 19 · The Pittsburgh Courier (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comNewspaper reprints 1943 Time Magazine article about Josh Gibson Wed, Jul 21, 1943 – 12 · Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio) · Newspapers.comK.C. Monarchs owners criticize Branch Rickey for signing Jackie Robinson without consulting them Fri, Mar 5, 1948 – 6 · Alabama Tribune (Montgomery, Alabama) · Newspapers.comNewark Eagles owner Effa Manley responds to Jackie Robinson's critiques of Black baseball teams Sat, May 22, 1948 – 9 · The Morning Call (Paterson, New Jersey) · Newspapers.comExcerpt from an obituary for Ed Bolden after his death in September 1950 Fri, Sep 29, 1950 – Page 1 · Delaware County Daily Times (Chester, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comWendell Smith asks fans to continue to support the Negro American League, 1951 Sat, May 5, 1951 – Page 14 · The Pittsburgh Courier (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comWendell Smith writes about importance and history of East-West Classic & about Gus Greenlee Sat, Aug 11, 1951 – Page 14 · The Pittsburgh Courier (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com1953 photo of Toni Stone (of the Indianapolis Clowns), first woman to join Negro American League Tue, Aug 11, 1953 – 9 · The Ponca City News (Ponca City, Oklahoma) · Newspapers.comBill Burke writes about women players in the Negro American League, 1954 Sun, May 30, 1954 – Page 16 · The Salina Journal (Salina, Kansas) · Newspapers.com