People know the names
Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks. They all got their start in the Negro Leagues before moving up to play for Major League Baseball teams and becoming household names. But what about Oscar Charleston? Or Cool Papa Bell, Smokey Joe Wilson, Judy Johnson or Josh Gibson? They were some of the greatest players of their time—a time before the color barrier in baseball was broken.
In honor of Juneteenth and the 100th Anniversary of the formation of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM), Hy-Vee donated $50,000 to the organization. The gift was part of Hy-Vee’s $1 Million & 1 Million Volunteer Hours pledge.
Hy-Vee is the presenting sponsor of the Hall of Game award, which honors MLB players who show the same grit and passion for the game as the Negro League heroes. For 5 years, Hy-Vee also has sponsored the NLBM Bobble Head series.
Bronze sculptures of 10 key players from the leagues is the centerpiece and endpoint of the museum. Many of the players have been inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
Entering the NLBM takes you back in time with exhibits not only about the players and teams but also encompassing what life was like on the road and at home. And you notice chicken wire that separates one exhibit from another.
“You have to endure the history to learn the history,” NLBM Vice President and Curator Raymond Doswell says. Chicken wire was used to separate Black seating at segregated baseball fields during the “separate but equal” era.
An exhibit featuring players who were the first to integrate Major League Baseball, effectively ending the need for the Negro Leagues.
Not allowed to play on the all-white professional teams, Black players formed their own teams and barnstormed across the country, playing any teams they could, including those all-white Major League teams, and often beating them. But without organization, some teams found it hard to make money and pay players, as they were often at the mercy of white booking agents who could block them from entering the field of play or keep a higher percentage of the gate receipts than had been agreed to. Rube Foster—a former player and founder of the Chicago American Giants, which was one of the best Black teams in the country—convinced other team owners to join together to form the Negro National League (NNL), the first of several Black leagues.
The Negro Leagues were a conglomeration of 7 leagues that played at various times from 1920 to 1960.
Black player to move into the modern Major Leagues? Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson in 1945. Robinson played for the Dodgers' minor league team, the Montreal Royals, in 1946 before moving to the Dodgers in 1947, becoming the first Black Major League player in the 20th century.
He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1962, and every April 15, in honor of his first game, MLB teams celebrate Jackie Robinson Day. On April 15, 1997, his number, 42, was permanently retired; the only player to have his number retired across all MLB teams.
Check out our docuseries on the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, which aims to preserve and celebrate the rich history of African-American baseball and its impact on the social advancement of America.
The reason for being
Who could be the first
is one of the most well-known players from the Negro Leagues and was the first player to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame based solely on his Negro Leagues career. In 1948, at age 42, he was a rookie for the Cleveland Indians.
I think [the museum] is a natural way for people to understand not just the history of baseball and the Negro Leagues, but the history of the United States. It’s an example of what happens when you come together and work to change things. That’s why our partnership with this organization is important. This museum makes history personal, which in return makes it even more impactful to those who experience it and its outreach.
— Hy-Vee CEO Randy Edeker
The Negro Leagues were the first to adopt several practices that are common in modern baseball, including night games and the All-Star Game.
Once Major League Baseball (MLB) was integrated, many players used the Negro Leagues as a launchpad into the Majors, leading to the decline of the Negro Leagues.
–Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Jackie Robinson made my success possible. Without him, I would never have been able to do what I did.”
is a microcosm of the larger societal issues at play during the time. It took 12 years before all MLB teams were integrated; in that time the U.S. military was desegregated and the “separate but equal” doctrine was struck down. In 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act.
The history of
baseball and the
Righting a wrong In 2020, Major League Baseball made a big move in an effort to correct the past. The organization officially recognized the stats and records of some 3,400 Negro Leagues players, incorporating them as professional Major Leaguers. The move was a culmination of several planned celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues that were interrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Negro Leagues are major league
Bud Fowler was the first Black player to play professional baseball in 1878. Moses Fleetwood Walker was the first Black player to play in the major leagues in 1884.
Baseball was integrated...
for a while.
major and minor league owners had entered a “gentlemen’s agreement” to keep teams segregated. Along with Jim Crow laws, black players were shut out of professional baseball.
was the first player to re-integrate Major League Baseball when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Larry Doby integrated the American League a few months later. The Boston Red Sox were the last team to integrate in 1959 when Pumpsie Green joined the team.
35 Negro Leagues players in the Hall of Fame.
In 1921, the Chicago American Giants attracted nearly 200,000 fans during the 1921 season. By 1942, an estimated 3 million fans filled the ballparks. Black baseball had also become a $2 million-a-year business by WWII, leading to larger paydays for players.
The fans turned out to watch
Field of legends
Info for visiting
The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday.
The self-guided tour should take about an hour.
NLBM is located at
1616 E. 18th St., Kansas City, MO.
$10 for adults
$9 for seniors (65+)
$6 for children (5–12 years old)
The Leagues existed because of racism and segregation in our country. But I want visitors to embrace the history as American history, not just African-American history. I don’t care what you are, if you’re interested, come and learn. We want to get you in the fold and be an advocate for teaching this history. We need to understand the past to understand the present.
—Curator Raymond Doswell
PLAN your VISIT
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