General term for the many black baseball
leagues that existed in the United States from 1920 until the 1960s.
In 1884, Moses Fleetwood Walker played catcher in 42 games for the Toledo Blue Stockings in the old American Association, which was then the National League's main rival. After the season, he was released by the team; it would be another 63 years before major league baseball was reintegrated. John McGraw, manager of the National League's New York Giants, several times attempted to hire black players and pass them off as "Indians." But the players were quickly "exposed" and were forced to leave the team before playing a game. There was a tacit "gentleman's agreement" between the owners that black players would not be allowed to play major league baseball.
For the next 30 years, no fully organized leagues existed where non-whites could play baseball. However, many black teams existed and earned their pay by barnstorming around the country; occasionally teams would play as a league for a single season before parting ways. In 1920, Andrew "Rube" Foster, a former player for the Chicago American Giants, convinced seven other teams to band together as the Negro National League, and the first successful Negro League was born. In 1923 Ed Bolden formed the Eastern Colored League; both leagues were successful into the 30's before shutting down.
After the success of these two leagues, black communities realized black baseball could be a successful enterprise, and in the mid-thirties a new Negro National League and the Negro American League were created. The two leagues held an All-star game from 1933 until 1948 and a World Series from 1942 until 1948.
In 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first black to play major league baseball in the 20th century. Others followed, and the Negro Leagues became less successful as their top talent and their fans left for the majors. The Negro National League folded in 1948, and most leagues and teams disbanded in the fifties.
There were many other successful Negro Leagues, including the Negro Southern League and the Texas Negro League. Also, several of the better teams were independent of any league. Given the relative lack of organization, teams often jumped leagues and players often jumped teams, but this did not affect the popularity of the Negro Leagues. For several years in the 40s, the Chicago Giants had a higher average attendance than their major league rivals, the Cubs and White Sox.
Fans often held allegiances to teams such as the Homestead Grays, the Birmingham Black Barons, the Kansas City Monarchs, and the Chicago American Giants even as the teams passed from league to league.
After major league baseball was reintegrated, the Negro Leagues were somewhat forgotten about until 1971, when the Baseball Hall of Fame created a committee to research the leagues and elect worthy Negro Leaguers into the Hall of Fame. The first three Negro League stars to be admitted to the Hall of Fame were: Satchel Paige, considered by many the best pitcher ever; Josh Gibson, who once hit 84 home runs in a single year but died at 35, missing his chance to play in the majors; and Buck Leonard, teammate of Gibson's and considered the Gehrig to Gibson's Ruth on the Homestead Grays.
For more information on the Negro Leagues, see