Barnstormers of Black History

Zoe Terry, Writer

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With Black History Month fast approaching and the decade starting anew, I think it only fitting to talk about an organization that was founded by Black people: The Negro League (NL). 

Founded in 1920 by Rube Foster, the Negro League was created because the National Association of Amateur Baseball Players rejected African American membership in 1867, adopting a “gentleman’s agreement” to keep the Black players out instead. 

Prior to the founding of the NL, there were many attempts to start a league that allowed African Americans to play. The first was in 1906 when the International League of Independent Base Ball Clubs was formed, but due to lack of funds, the league folded after its first season.   

After the creation of the NL, it was commonplace for many traveling teams to “Barnstorm”. Barnstorming is when teams would load their bats and gloves onto busses and into motorcars and travel to places like Indiana, Kansas the Dakotas and anywhere else to play baseball before, after, and even during their season because team owners would cut their pay for no reason or treat them unfairly. They barnstormed to help make up for lost wages.  

The traveling teams would play other Negro League teams, as well as white minor league teams. Often, players received death threats saying if they beat a certain team they or their families would be harmed.  

Former Hall-of-Famer Monte Irvin recalls a racial incident in the deep South. While barnstorming with the Newark Eagles, Irvin said he and his teammates made a stop at a cafe near Birmingham, Al. Seeing Irvin & Co. approach, the cafe owner shook her head signaling to the players that she wasn’t about to serve black people.

For Negro ballplayers, it was just another hardship to overcome, just one more frustration that chasing the game brought these talented men. But they never let racism rob them of their love for the game.  

The Atlanta Black Crackers ( The ABC) were one such team in the NL. The ABC played in the city of Atlanta off and on from 1919 to 1949. The Atlanta Black Crackers took their name from the white Atlanta Crackers, hoping to benefit from their popularity and name recognition.  

The Atlanta Crackers’ general manager Frank Reynolds understood that he could lease the ballpark to the black ball-club when the Crackers went on the road, therefore, increasing the Crackers’ profits.

The Atlanta Cubs (the original name of The Atlanta Black Crackers) was a hard-hitting team that got off to a strong start against a variety of opponents. While playing a series in Birmingham, the Cubs impressed the fans so much that they came back to Atlanta with a new name, the Atlanta Black Crackers. By the end of the summer season, the Black Crackers had played all over the South and had beaten teams from New Orleans to Florida and many places in between.  

The teams of the Negro League had to work ten times harder than their white counterparts just to be given an equal opportunity. And they did. No matter the trials they faced, these teams fought to do what they loved, which was play ball. Despite the terrible pay, the racist remarks and actions, the non-stop traveling and the hunger for equality, they persevered.  

Americans celebrate Black History Month to learn more about the people who fought for the equality that we now know and love. It is only fitting to shine a light on the Negro League and its players.