Glory Bound: Black Athletes in a White America

By David K. Wiggins | Go to book overview

5
Wendell Smith, the Pittsburgh Courier-Journal, and the Campaign to Include Blacks in Organized Baseball, 1933-1945

In his autobiography I Never Had It Made, Jackie Robinson wrote that he would be forever indebted to Wendell Smith, because it was Smith who had first recommended him to Branch Rickey as the man most suited to break the color barrier in white organized baseball.1 As sports editor of the Pittsburgh Courier-Journal, the largest and perhaps most radical black newspaper in America, Smith told Rickey during a meeting between the two on April 17, 1945, that Robinson was one black player who had major league potential.2 The meeting between Smith and Rickey was a significant one not only because it put Rickey on the trail of the talented shortstop of the Kansas City Monarchs, but because it represented a turning point in the nearly twelve-year campaign that the Courier-Journal had waged against the exclusion of blacks in America's "National Pastime." Since 1933 the Pittsburgh-based newspaper had written editorials, conducted interviews with white major leaguers, and written feature-length articles, all in an attempt to see that qualified blacks were allowed to compete in organized baseball. Led by the spirited and tenacious Smith, the Courier-Journal relentlessly hammered away at Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, club owners, field managers, ballplayers, and anyone else it felt was responsible for the ban on black ballplayers. By the time Smith had his meeting with Rickey in the spring of 1945, the Courier-Journal was recognized nationwide for its unrelenting campaign to end discrimination in organized baseball.3

While scholars have given much attention to the part played by Rickey and white sportscasters in ending discrimination in organized baseball, the role of Smith and the Courier-Journal in seeing that blacks

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