Thursday, July 9, 2009

Ypsilanti Beat Jackie Robinson by 28 Years: Integrated Baseball in 1919

Black baseball player Jackie Robinson famously integrated professional baseball when he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. In his first season he was selected as Rookie of the Year. Later Robinson was voted the National League's Most Valuable Player, and led the Dodgers to the World Series. He accomplished all this in a segregated society rife with brutal racism.

Although Robinson's performance with the Dodgers is most people's mental touchstone for the integration of baseball, Ypsilanti had an integrated city "Factory League" in 1919. Teams from the factories around town squared off against each other in a summer series. The team from the local Pressed Steel Co., in the words of this Ypsilanti Daily Press article, was "composed entirely of colored boys" [the white players are called "boys" as well].

The paper described the Pressed Steel team's star hitter, M. Stacks, and his triple over the left field fence, which helped lead the Pressed Steel team to victory that day. The paper gives the stats for both teams and some analysis. (Click on the article for a readable size).

Lest this suggested equality paint too rosy a picture, it should be recalled that in 1910, just a few years earlier, black employment was generally relegated to Ypsilanti's most difficult, menial, and low-paying jobs. With that in mind, it must be noted that the summer 1919 YDP also contains a grim news article about a black man, accused of alleged relations with a white woman, who was lynched in Texas. It is unlikely that black baseball teams were playing white ones in much of the segregated South of the time.

Jackie Robinson is regarded as a man who helped pave the way for the Civil Rights movement. But his non-professional black baseball colleagues in 1919 Ypsilanti, even just by playing this local game, were doing their part as well.


Kurt Anschuetz said...

In 1974 the City of Ypsilanti sued Little League baseball to allow girls into the league. Perhaps it is baseball that sets us apart from the rest of the country.

Dusty D said...

Dear Mr. Anschuetz: What a graceful parallel--that's true, now that you mention that I dimly remember reading about it.

Phooey, link not cooperating but--thank you for pointing out the similarity.