Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLPBA) are jointly donating $1 million to the Kansas City-based Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM). The donation was announced on Wednesday.
The contribution will be allocated from the Youth Development Foundation, which is jointly administered by the MLBPA and MLB, and will be ear-marked to support the NLBM’s operations, museum services, expansion, and educational and community programming. In particular, a portion of the funds will allow the Museum to complete the Buck O’Neil Education and Research Center on the site of the Paseo YMCA, where the original Negro Leagues charter was signed in 1920.
Founded in the early 1990s and originally contained within a one room office in Kansas City, the Museum currently utilizes 10,000 square feet of space to preserve and tell the history of the Negro Leagues and players. The exhibit features multimedia computer stations, several film exhibits, hundreds of photographs, a replica field with 12 bronze sculptures, and a growing collection of baseball artifacts.
“It’s an honor to represent the players in providing this grant to the Museum to help ensure that the Negro Leagues and their players will never be forgotten,” stated MLBPA executive director Tony Clark. “Today’s players are committed to providing opportunities for underserved populations to play baseball, and we all believe the Negro Leagues’ storied history can play an important role in our game’s future by inspiring minority youth to play the sport we all love.”
“Major League Baseball and our 30 clubs are proud to support the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum’s mission of bringing this significant era of our game’s history to life,” said MLB commissioner Rob Manfred. “Because of the sacrifices and triumphs of the men and women of the Negro Leagues, the Museum is an inspirational experience for fans of any age. We appreciate the Museum’s contributions to Baseball and the role it can play in encouraging young people to become a part of our game.”
“On behalf of the board and staff of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the surviving Negro Leagues players, I would like to thank the Major League Baseball Players Association and Major League Baseball for their generosity and continued support,” said NLBM president Bob Kendrick. “The Negro Leagues played an important role in not only changing the game but America too. This significant grant allows us to continue to preserve, educate and celebrate a once forgotten but compelling chapter of American history. It also gives us the wherewithal to use this compelling story as a tool to inspire future generations to ‘play ball!'”
African-Americans began to play professional baseball in the late 1800s on teams derived from the military, collegiate institutions, and businesses such as hotels. They eventually found their way to Major League and Minor League teams alongside white players. However, racism and “Jim Crow” laws forced them from these teams by the turn of the century, and they formed their own units, “barnstorming” around the country to play anyone who would challenge them.
In 1920, an organized league structure was formed under the guidance of Andrew “Rube” Foster-a former player, manager, and owner for the Chicago American Giants. In a meeting held at the Paseo YMCA in Kansas City, Mo., Foster and a few other Midwestern team owners joined to form the Negro National League. Soon, rival leagues formed in Eastern and Southern states, bringing the thrills and innovative play of black baseball to major urban centers and rural countrysides in the U.S., Canada, and Latin America. The Leagues maintained a high level of professional skill and became centerpieces for economic development in many black communities.
Although Jackie Robinson breaking Baseball’s color barrier was an historic event and a key moment in baseball and civil rights history, it prompted the decline of the Negro Leagues. Soon after Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, the best black players were recruited for the Major Leagues, and black fans followed.
The last Negro Leagues teams folded in the early 1960s, but their legacy lives on through the surviving players and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.