Extra Bases: Reflections on Jackie Robinson, Race, and Baseball History

By Jules Tygiel | Go to book overview

SIX

Unreconciled Strivings
Baseball in Jim Crow America

Andrew “Rube” Foster epitomized African-American pride. A tall, imposing, right-handed pitcher, he had migrated from his native Texas to Chicago in 1902 to play for the Chicago Union Giants. When warned that he might face “the best clubs in the land, white clubs, ” he announced, “I fear nobody.” Over the next decade he established himself as perhaps the outstanding pitcher in all of baseball. In 1911 he formed his own team, the Chicago American Giants, and won a reputation as a managerial genius equal to his friend, John McGraw. Nine years later Foster, seeking to “keep colored baseball from control of the whites” and “to do something concrete for the loyalty of the Race, ” created the Negro National League. Foster criticized white owners for not letting African Americans “count a ticket [or] learn anything about the business, ” and called for a league dominated by black men. “There can be no such thing as [a black baseball league] with four or five of the directors white any more than you can call a streetcar a steamship, ” he asserted. Foster urged black fans: “It is your league. Nurse it! Help it! Keep it!” Yet Foster's intense racial pride notwithstanding, he also made his ultimate goal clear. “We have to be ready, ” he proclaimed, “when the time comes for integration.” 1

Rube Foster—and indeed, the entire experience of blacks in baseball in early-twentieth-century America 2—exemplifies elements of Booker T. Washington's call for the development of separate economic spheres so that his race might prepare itself for ultimate inclusion in American life. Yet black baseball also captured what Washington's rival, W. E. B. Du Bois, labeled the “twoness” of the African-American experience. “One ever feels his twoness—an American, a Negro, ” wrote Du Bois, “two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” The architects of black baseball embodied this dualism. They strove to

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