Black History Month: the Influence of the NNL


Washington Homestead Grays in 1946

The 1920s are seen as the Golden Era of baseball, with the rise of stars like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. However, many of the talented players of this time period are overlooked. In 1920, Rube Foster founded the Negro National League (NNL): an all Black major and minor league organization that contracted Black players and sanctioned baseball games. At the time, Black players were banned from the MLB, and the NNL was the first successful long-term Black baseball league. In 1923, the Eastern Colored League (ECL) was founded; these two organizations competed in their own World Series from 1924-27. This influential era laid the groundwork for Jackie Robinson playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 and some of the best players in the MLB: Willie Mays, Satchel Paige, and Roy Campanella. 

Although the hospitalization of Rube Foster forced the NNL to dissolve, and the beginning of the Great Depression put an end to all other Black organizations, there was a rebirth of the NNL in 1933. This was the beginning of the prime era of a stable league with a loyal fan base that made the organization one of the profitable all-Black businesses throughout World War II. 

During the prominent era of the NNL, the mid-1930s through early 1940s, two teams dominated: the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords. The Grays won nine pennants in nine years. The Grays were home to legendary players such as Josh Gibson and James Bell. Gibson, considered one of the greatest home run hitters to never play in the MLB, is believed to have 800 career home runs (although statistics were not always kept at this time). The Crawfords were home to several future Baseball Hall of Fame players and manager Oscar Charleston. The NNL East-West All Star Game ran from 1933-1950 and was one of the most prominent social events for Black baseball fans, hosting 50,000 people every year. The NNL was not only important to the development of great baseball players but also had a significant cultural impact on African-Americans in the 20th Century. 

The turning point of baseball, when Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, led to a trend of more and more Black players joining teams in the MLB. Eventually, the NNL fizzled out in 1948. These crucial organizations are something to be remembered and celebrated. 

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