Rube Foster: "The Father of Black Baseball"

Each one of my favorite baseball personalities of all time—Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente—is widely remembered for both athletic prowess and sterling character.

Robinson endured slings and arrows when his 1947 hiring by the Brooklyn Dodgers began the integration of the major leagues. In his first year, he led the Dodgers to the National League championship. Black and Puerto Rican by birth, Clemente was a Pittsburgh Pirate who transcended race, nationality, and culture to become the game’s first Latino superstar.

The Negro National League

But have you ever heard of Rube Foster? Few Americans today ever have. I can think of no better time than Black History Month (February) and today (February 13) to rectify that. On this date exactly 100 years ago—February 13, 1920—Andrew “Rube” Foster founded and became the first president of the now-largely-forgotten Negro National League (NNL). It was the first black baseball network to last more than a single season, surviving for 11 years and composed of 24 teams from Kansas City to Pittsburgh to Birmingham.

Prejudice and segregation, even in northern states, were mainstream in 1920.

Starting the NNL is one of many reasons Foster is regarded as “the Father of Black Baseball.” He achieved acclaim for multiple talents in the sport—as a player, as an owner, and as a manager. When he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981, more than 50 years after his death in 1930, he was lauded as one of the best black pitchers of all time. He also founded and managed the most successful black team of the pre-integration era, the Chicago American Giants. A century ago, Americans of all colors and creeds from coast to coast knew his name and admired him.

What Foster did was all the more remarkable considering the interracial temper of the times. Prejudice and segregation, even in northern states, were mainstream in 1920. The president of the United States, Democrat Woodrow Wilson, was himself a racist, and one who harbored a pro-eugenics view common to “progressives” at the time. Wilson promoted segregation throughout the federal government and once expelled a delegation

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