11 The Negro Leagues
and the Contradictions
of Social Darwinism
ALEX RUCK AND ROB RUCK
In 1920, Andrew 'Rube' Foster brought together a number of men who operated black baseball teams in the Midwest to form the Negro National League (NNL). This meeting was a turning point for black sport. One of the first national black institutions to emerge since slavery's end, the eight clubs were located in northern cities whose black populations had swelled with southern migrants. These locales allowed for a degree of black attainment that might have been crushed in the South. Overall, the league was a bold effort to establish black sport on a more professional basis. If unable to join the major leagues, black America would form one of its own.
American sport, it is often said, should be above politics, free of troubling cultural and social realities. But that goal has rarely been attained, especially where sport intersects race. For over a century, sport in America has been indelibly stamped by the dimensions of race—by color lines, the quest for a white hope, the struggles of black athletes, and philosophies of racial superiority. How the nation thought about race shaped its sporting life. That was true in the late nineteenth century and remains so today.
Pose the question whether African Americans are inherently superior athletes. The chances are that many of those respond-