Negro Stadium in Portsmouth, Virginia Negro League Logos of the 1920's Indianapolis Clowns
    In 1917, the United States was still firmly in the talons of the Jim Crow laws, which would arguably not be completely broken in baseball until Jackie Robinson joined the (white) major leagues in 1947. At the time, in fact, the concelebration in Norfolk might have run afoul of Virginia’s Jim Crow laws, still firmly in effect at the time. While the laws pertained to virtually every area of human conduct, and it was not necessary to spell out a particular endeavor, some states did have a specific “Jim Crow” law for baseball. Georgia’s law not only demanded segregation; it spelled out how far the segregation had to extend:   Amateur Baseball It shall be unlawful for any amateur white baseball team to play baseball on any vacant lot or baseball diamond within two blocks of a playground devoted to the Negro race, and it shall be unlawful for any amateur colored baseball team to play baseball in any vacant lot or baseball diamond within two blocks of any playground devoted to the white race.

    Jim Crow laws were named after a black character in minstrel shows, and existed from the 1890s into the 1960s in many arenas of public life in many states and cities both north and south of the Mason-Dixon Line. In fact, so prevalent were these laws, that it is a wonder white Americans ever heard of the Negro league greats, such as Satchel Paige. Playing ball in a sort of “shadow” world of separate diamonds and games, in a great portion of the nation, the players were also required to use the back of the bus, literally, and to frequent only black restaurants and hotels when on the road. That would have been a significant strike against the Black leagues, but it was worse than that: they were subject to financial problems that probably did as much as anything to keep Negro League Baseball out of the mainstream of American consciousness, unlike boxing which had been integrated—at least the contenders had—since well before 1910.

“In Washington, D.C., the Washington Bee reported, ‘White ruffians showed their teeth and attacked almost every colored person they saw upon the public streets’.”Similar events occurred in New York City and tiny towns in the deep South. By the time Jackie Robinson left the Negro Leagues, the backlash was not nearly so pronounced. Arguably, the Negro Leagues kept violence at bay, while producing athletes of exceptional quality without risking Jim Crow law violence. That,of course, is shining a favorable light on a tradition that is not worthy of accolade, and that arguably prevented numerous black ballplayers from receiving a fraction of their worth.

    Today, few people understand the sociological factors that prevented black and white baseball players from competition with each other, as opponents or as members of racially mixed teams. They therefore know even less about those who played for a virtually completely black audience of ball fans. And they know almost nothing of the financial advantage taken of the Negro League equivalents of modern Hank Aarons and Reggie Jacksons and Barry Bonds. Nonetheless, during the parallel development of the major leagues and the Negro leagues, more than “4,000 men displayed their talents in the arenas of black baseball,” most being of major league caliber. Finally, “approximately three dozen of these stars shone with such magnificence as to have merited selection to the National Baseball Hall of Fame” among them several Tidewater players.

    But Tidewater teams, of which the Norfolk Red Stockings were probably the most famous and one of the first¹&sup8  ,often did not fare well when they were on the road, according to the few national reports extant about them today. Of one tournament in the late 1800s, it was said that “The Red Stockings of Norfolk showed up well in the tournament, but luck seemed to be against them….All their games were hotly contested, but in the closing innings, luck would invariably step in and beat them.”

Artist Rendention of Negro League travel Artist Rendention of Negro League locker room Artist Rendention of Negro League locker room Artist Rendention of Negro League travel