Sport and the Color Line: Black Athletes and Race Relations in Twentieth-Century America

By Patrick B. Miller; David K. Wiggins | Go to book overview

2

BLACK ENTREPRENEURSHIP IN THE NATIONAL PASTIME

The Rise of Semiprofessional Baseball in Black Chicago, 1890-1915

Michael E. Lomax

DURING THE 1980s AND 1990s, popular and professional historians of baseball gave increased attention to the black experience in the national pastime. They have examined the game's relationship to white society, analyzed the trials and triumphs of black ballplayers, and extolled the competency of black ballplayers as they confronted racist America. Their research has also examined the connection between black baseball and the black community, emphasizing in particular how the game served as a unifying element to communities in transition and how it helped bridge class distinctions. 1

These efforts have dramatically expanded our knowledge, but the writings on black baseball have been somewhat narrow and limited. Most of the emphasis has been on the experience of players and the game on the field. While writers have noted the connection between black baseball and the black community, most of the research, especially in popular works, has neglected to analyze this linkage. Part and parcel of these limitations is the virtual absence of any analysis that examines the role of local businessmen, communal patterns, and the development of black baseball.

Baseball in black Chicago exemplifies the efforts of black businessmen to pursue sport as an entrepreneurial endeavor. Their attempt to establish baseball as a profitable business illustrates the efforts of black businessmen to counter discrimination and the exclusion of African Americans from places of amusement. It also illustrates how these African-Ameri-can entrepreneurs responded to obstacles, such as the inability to secure credit, that adversely impacted economic development. These entrepreneurs organized a segregated enterprise within the fabric of the national economy. In other words, the segregated enterprise-black independent teams-operated within the framework of the national economy-white semiprofessional baseball. African-American baseball owners did not seek to promote their ball clubs exclusively to a black clientele. But with the expansion of the African-American community in Chicago in the 1890s, due to northern migration, black owners began catering to this growing market. 2

Andrew "Rube" Foster was to emerge as Chicago's most prominent black baseball entrepreneur. He became the first black owner to transform a weekend enterprise into a full-time operation, and he also developed a barnstorming tour in both the West and

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