How the Courier Helped Integrate Baseball

The integration of the National and American baseball leagues was not an issue until the 1930's. Blacks could compete with whites in football, track, and basketball, and college ballplayers played in mixed leagues.

In 1933, Chester Washington, sports editor for the Courier, set up the "Big League Symposium," which lasted four months. All the big names of baseball discussed the race politics of the big leagues. Most denied that racial discrimination occurred, instead questioning whether black ballplayers had the ability to compete with their white peers. As frustrating as this was for blacks to hear, the Courier did not give up.

Instead its sports writers spent the next five years singing the praises of various black players in the sports pages and sending letters and telegrams to influential baseball executives describing how good the stars of the Negro League were. In 1937, Washington created a "Roster of Stars," naming such greats as
Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, and Satchel Paige. The annual East-West All-Star game always attracted many white journalists and executives from the National and American Leagues. In addition, black players saw the limelight when they played major league teams in exhibition games. For instance, the Pittsburgh Crawfords found fame when they beat a team of major league players.
Until 1938, the Courier stuck to these tactics without much result. Then in early 1938, the paper hired Wendell Smith as a sports reporter. Smith had been active in basketball and baseball in high school and college, and had been forced to deal with the indignities of segregated housing while on road trips. He thought the Courier's postion was too conservative, and lashed out at the black community, who he did not see supporting its teams.

Smith got both the black and white communities talking when he compared Nazi Germany's treatment of minorities to America's insistence on segregated ball leagues. In another high profile article, he interviewed major league players and managers, soliciting their views on playing alongside blacks. His results were overwhelmingly positive.

His tireless fighting, even going so far as to (unsuccessfully) ask President Roosevelt to intervene, finally got results. In 1945, a move towards the
integration of major league baseball occurred when a handful of black players got tryouts with teams, including Jackie Robinson, although none was signed. Later, Branch Ricky, president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, asked Smith for advice on black players with the potential to play in the majors. Smith suggested Robinson--and the rest, as they say, is history.