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Negro National League founded

DATE OF EVENT: Friday, Feb. 13, 1920

DATE PUBLISHED: No story published at the time

Editor’s note: The Negro National League was founded in Kansas City in 1920, adopting the same general structure as the minor and major leagues in white baseball at the time. During their peak years, the Negro leagues would have a network of 15 or more franchises, employing members of as many as 500 families and taking in $2 million annually during the boom years of World War II.

The Kansas City Star, however, did not cover the founding of the league.

No one can be sure exactly why. No doubt race played a role. In those days The Star largely ignored events in the African-American community. Also, the association was one of many — there were various leagues, associations and traveling teams across the country at the time, and this one was at yet unproven.

Eventually The Star would follow the Monarchs and the league on a regular basis — but that was yet to come.

An account of the founding is in the book The Kansas City Monarchs: Champions of Black Baseball. The author, Janet Bruce Vaughan, granted permission to excerpt parts of it.

The Kansas City Monarchs: Champions of Black Baseball details the needs that the new league filled.

“For years,” Vaughan wrote, “black ballplayers had suffered the oppression of white booking agents and owners.” Such figures, Vaughan writes, took advantage of black athletes with few other alternatives. Black newspapers like the Indianapolis Freeman called for a “Moses to lead the baseball children out of the wilderness.”

Moses, Vaughan writes, “came in the figure of Andrew (Rube) Foster.”

Foster, a star pitcher in the black baseball ranks, later formed the Chicago American Giants.

Foster, Vaughan writes, “was keenly aware of the drawbacks of playing independent baseball and of depending on white booking agents.” In calling for a new league organization Foster urged owners to unite, Vaughan writes, “in not allowing white men to own, manage and do as they like doing in the semi-pro ranks with underhand methods.”

Following preliminary meetings in Chicago and Detroit, Foster invited several owners of Midwestern black teams, as well as sportswriters from prominent black newspapers, to meet at the YMCA building near 19th Street at the Paseo in Kansas City, as well as at a nearby hotel.

Those who attended included Foster, representing the Chicago American Giants; and other team owners from Detroit, Chicago, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Kansas City and Dayton, Ohio.

Foster, Vaughan writes, dreamed of creating a league structure, based on the same plan as both big leagues and minor leagues.

“At the apex of the nationwide professional structure that dominated white baseball after 1900 were two major leagues, the National and the American. Numerous minor leagues, ranked according to quality, completed the vertical structure of organized baseball. The players signed contracts and received regular salaries from the franchise owners.”

Foster, Vaughan adds, “hoped that an identical structure in black baseball would ‘pave the way for the (the black) champion team eventually to play the winner among the whites.’ ”

The sportswriters, working with a lawyer, Elisha Scott of Topeka, labored through the night preparing a constitution for the National Association of Colored Professional Base Ball Clubs. “The document outlined rules for the western division, the Negro National League (NNL), which became the first enduring black league,” Vaughan writes.

One of the league’s teams was the Kansas City Monarchs, owned by J.L. Wilkinson, the league’s only white owner.

In 1945 the Monarchs roster would include Jackie Robinson, who after a season signed a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson broke the major league baseball color barrier in 1947.