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Separate and Unequaled: Black Baseball in the District of Columbia

Separate and Unequaled: Black Baseball in the District of Columbia

May 18, 2008 – October 5, 2008

As the United States struggled to recover from the Civil War, baseball became the country's favorite sport to play and to watch. Largely integrated, it was a unifying force in a nation grappling with a divided racial history. Yet, in the nation’s capital, baseball teams remained segregated until 1944. The District’s Griffith Stadium was one of only two segregated major league ballparks in the country and did not integrate until 1965. African American baseball teams were unable to own ballparks and played wherever they could, often requesting the use of white-owned fields, including Griffith Stadium. Due to consistent winning scores and exciting games, African American teams soon became the fan favorites of Washington baseball lovers, selling out stadiums wherever they played.

The exhibit features star players such as Josh Gibson and “Buck” Leonard of the Negro Leagues’ most celebrated team, the Homestead Grays of Washington, DC. Formed in 1910, the Homestead Grays originally brought together a group of black steelworkers to play baseball in Homestead, Pennsylvania. The club began splitting its games between Pittsburgh and Washington, DC in 1937 and formally moved to the District in 1940. The strong community following for African American players and teams gave rise to amateur, collegiate, and semi-pro black baseball teams and leagues. The exhibition also highlights the critical role played by African American sportswriters like Samuel Harold “Sam” Lacy in promoting the team and Negro League games to their readers. These journalists contributed to the success of the Homestead Grays, especially Lacy, whose vigorous prose captured the game and challenged racism. Lacy broke barriers himself, becoming the first black member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. He also mentored young, black sports journalists, such as Washingtonian Arthur Mantel “Art” Carter.

The Anacostia Community Museum hosted a condensed version of the exhibit from 2008 to 2015. In July 2018, the remounted exhibit, along with three new murals, traveled to Nationals Stadium to mark Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game.

1944 Homestead Grays. Left to right: Jelly Jackson, Ray Battle, Edward Robinson, Sam Bankhead, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Dave Hoskins, Jerry Benjamin, and James “Cool Papa” Bell. Art Carter Papers. Courtesy of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, Washington, DC.