The story of black professional baseball is one of entrepreneurs, fans, players and opportunities. As Neil Lanctot shows us in “Negro League Baseball: The Rise and Ruin of a Black Institution,” the history of this once-major enterprise provides a remarkable window into America’s past. Baseball functioned as a critical component in the separate economy catering to black consumers in the urban centers of the North and South. While most black businesses struggled to survive from year to year, professional baseball teams and leagues operated for decades and represent a significant African-American institution.
“Negro League Baseball” presents the extraordinary history of this achievement, from its lowest ebb during the Depression, through its golden age and World War II, until its slow demise after the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Kansas City Monarch Jackie Robinson. Lanctot, professor of history at the University of Delaware and author of “Fair Dealing and Clean Playing: The Hilldale Club and The Development of Black Professional Baseball, 1910-1932,” has painstakingly reconstructed the institutional history of black professional baseball, locating the players, teams, owners and fans in the wider context of the league’s administration.
Lanctot draws upon black newspapers, interviews he conducted with former players, correspondence, league documents and financial and government records. Through his efforts he places black baseball within the sweep of early 20th-century America, an era of changing attitudes toward the need for separate institutions.
On Saturday, May 15, at 1:00 p.m., Lanctot will give a lecture and sign copies of “Negro League Baseball” at the Atwater Kent Museum of Philadelphia, 15 S. Seventh St. This event is part of a series of programs and exhibits exploring the city’s baseball history.
—University of Pennsylvania Press
Originally published on April 29, 2004