"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.
"COLORED BASEBALL." Baseball's evolution into professionalized sport began when sixteen clubs formed the National Association of Base Ball Payers (NABBP) in 1857. The CIVIL WAR encouraged the spread of the sport and served to standardize the rules as it was played in Union army camps.
In 1869, the NABBP created a professional category for clubs that allowed team managers to pay their players. The Cincinnati Red Stockings were the first to do so, making the team the first professional baseball team. These teams established the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (NAPBBP) which operated from 1871 to 1875. The NAPBBP was replaced by the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs, also known as the National League (NL), established in 1876. The American League was founded in 1901. In 1903, these two leagues created Major League Baseball.
Racial segregation of baseball occurred gradually. Into the early 1900s, a number of teams had non-white players. As baseball became the “national sport,” venues and team managers began discriminating against Black players and fans. Black teams were kept from sporting events as early as 1867. In October, that year, the Pennsylvania State Convention of Baseball denied entrance to the Philadelphia Pythian Baseball Club, an African American team founded in 1865. A few months later, the National Association of Base Ball Players instituted a color line, barring any team that had one or more African American players.
As Black players had fewer opportunities to join the Major Leagues, they formed their own teams. Some teams were composed of players of different ethnicities, including the Cuban Stars, a traveling team that played from 1907 to 1930, and the All Nations team. Playing from 1912 to 1925, the traveling All Nations team was composed of African Americans, American Indians, Native Hawaiians, Japanese Americans, and Hispanic Americans.
Due to the leadership of Chicago American Giants owner Rube Foster, the heads of other Midwestern Black teams created the first Black league, the Negro National League (1920-1931). This league featured teams from Chicago, Cincinnati, Dayton, Detroit, Indianapolis, Kansas City and St. Louis. Black teams formed other leagues, including the Negro Southern League, on and off from 1920-1951, and the Eastern Colored League (1923-1928).
Segregated baseball had profound impacts on Black communities in America. All-Black teams became symbols of community pride. But when Black and white teams faced off, white players and fans somnetimes harassed their Black counterparts. Some Negro League stadiums, such as Detroit’s Hamtramck Stadium, even had segregated seating. (1)
"Colored Baseball" was the term used in 1916 to refer to baseball teams composed of AFRICAN AMERICANS. The much anticipated game that year was between the Chicago Leland Giants and the "Black Cats" of Dubuque. The writer of the newspaper column claimed the "smokes" were making a trip through the area and would probably appear on either June 27th or 28th. As yet undefeated in the season, the Chicago baseball team had drawn a large crowd several years previously. (2)
In Negro league baseball, organized major league play began in 1920, however informal "proto" leagues arose in the 1880s. Most teams up to about 1920 were able to survive, and even profit, by barnstorming small towns and playing local semi-pro teams. After 1920, most teams found financial security by forming leagues, but it was common for teams each season to play as many games outside of the league's schedule. Generally, leagues in the north were major while leagues in the south were minor. (3)
On December 16, 1924 Dubuque was the scene of the murder of Jess "Cannonball" Jackson, one of the best African American pitchers in the Mid-West. For two or more years prior to his death, he had been a member of the Glinkenson Union Giants of Chicago. While playing with the colored team, Jackson also played in Dubuque pitching against the Dubuque White Sox and other teams. In 1922 he had dazzled the local crowd by striking out 17 opposing batters. He was also employed by the J. A. Rassmussen and Sons street improvement contractors. Investigators found that Jackson had been struck by an acquaintance in the head. The man pled guilty to manslaughter and was given an eight-year sentence. When local African Americans found that Jackson had no relatives, a collection was taken up so that he could have a proper grave and marker in LINWOOD CEMETERY. (4)
The Dubuque baseball club in 1935 competed with the Memphis Red Sox, a colored team, in a double-header on July 27th and 28th. (5) In June, Dubuque had hosted the Elkader Eagles baseball team who were playing the Brown Cubs, a colored team from Piney Woods, Mississippi. The Cubs won by a score of 10-7 in a game featuring "hard hitting on the part of both teams." (6)
In 1944 Al Ney, sports editor of the Telegraph-Herald, reported on June 22, that A. M. Saperstein, "bossman" of Sports Enterprises in Chicago, Illinois had contacted him in regards to sending a couple of "top flight colored baseball teams," to Dubuque for an exposition. The two teams, from the Negro American League, the major of league of "colored baseball," might be available but would want to play night ball.
Perhaps rather than bring two colored teams to play each other, one could come to play an all-star Mississippi Valley League team. Some years ago such promotions were very popular, but towards the peak of the decline of baseball here a few years back the promoters and traveling teams got "took" for plenty. The present stands couldn't hold enough fans to pay the cost of such a game, but extra bleachers could possibly be erected. (7)
With the integration of organized baseball beginning 1946, Negro leagues lost elite players to white leagues causing former major Negro leagues to slip to minor league status. Historians do not consider any Negro league "major" after 1950. (8)
In 1952 the Dubuque Independents played the Harlem Globetrotters at the FOURTH STREET BASEBALL FIELD. The Globetrotters were coached by Winfield Scott Welch, who also served as the road manager of the Harlem Globetrotters of basketball fame. Welch's success included championships for such teams as the New Orleans Crescent Stars, Birmingham Black Barons, American Giants, New York Cuban Giants, Detroit Stars, and the Cincinnati Crescents. (9)
1. Crawford-Lackey, Katherine, "Places of Black Baseball," National Park Service," Online: https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/places-of-black-baseball.htm
2. "Leland Giants to Play in Dubuque," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, June 15, 1916, p. 11
3. "List of Minor Negro League Baseball Teams," Wiki, Online: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_minor_Negro_league_baseball_teams
4. "Colored Baseball Star is Buried," Telegraph-Herald, December 24, 1924, p. 18
5. "Behind the Screen with Scoop," Telegraph-Herald, July 25, 1935, p. 15
6. "Elkader Eagles Lose to Brown Cubs Team," Telegraph-Herald, June 24, 1938, p. 11
7. Ney, Al, "Sports Alley," Telegraph-Herald, June 22, 1944, p. 23
8. "List of Minor..."
9. "Trotters Boast Canny Pilot," Telegraph-Herald, June 1, 1952, p 21