Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Batter Up! (Society)

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Batter Up! (Society)

Article excerpt

"Bearing Witness to Blackball: Buck O'Neil, the Negro Leagues, and the Politics of the Past" by Daniel A. Nathan in Journal of American Studies (Vol. 35, No. 3), Cambridge Univ. Press, Edinburgh Bldg., Shaftesbury Rd., Cambridge, England GB2 2RU.

Thanks to documentaries such as Ken Burns's 1994 Baseball, and nostalgic tributes to legends such as Josh Gibson and James "Cool Papa" Bell, the Negro Leagues may be more celebrated now than at any time since they disappeared in the late l950s. Nathan, a professor of American studies and history at Finland's University of Tampera, senses something fishy. He thinks the current nostalgic interest in the Negro Leagues is an attempt to rewrite history.

Some of the first professional baseball teams after the Civil War were integrated, and even the all-black teams of the time routinely played against all-white teams. But segregation started early. The National Association of Base Ball Players voted in 1867 to bar "any club which may be composed of one or more colored persons," and the National League, organized in 1876, "tacitly agreed to the same prohibition." All was not lost, but "by the beginning of the 20th century there were no African Americans in the Major Leagues."

In 1920, Andrew "Rube" Foster formed the first successful all-black league, the Negro National League, but it was done in by the depression. A new Negro National League sprang up in 1933, followed four years later by the Negro American League. …

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