Commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Negro National League Founding
This year marks a big one for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. The institution celebrates the 100th anniversary of the 1920 founding of the Negro National League, the country’s first successful, organized black baseball league. Not only that, but the formation also marks the founding of the Kansas City Monarchs, a legendary team with its own list of all-time heroes.
Visitors can commemorate the monumental occasion by enjoying special programming, new exhibits and more throughout the year, as well as the opening of the Buck O’Neil Education and Research Center.
The Story and The Players
Anyone even remotely familiar with baseball can tell you that it’s best known as America’s pastime. There’s a reason for that: it’s really old. Shortly after the end of the Civil War, professional baseball teams began forming around the country. Soon the game developed into how we best remember it—a collection of black-and-white photos and grainy footage accompanied by old-timey radio play-by-play, the smells of hotdogs and the crunch of peanut shells beneath our feet.
Shared memories stand out most: Babe Ruth calling his shot, Lou Gehrig’s “luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech, Willie Mays’s over-the-shoulder catch in the 1954 World Series and Jackie Robinson stealing home a year later, also in the World Series.
Yet up until 1947, both Mays and Robinson were excluded from that pastime—at least in Major League Baseball (MLB). African American players once joined their white cohorts on the field in the late 1800s, but as Jim Crow segregation took hold, black athletes were turned away from the white MLB teams, all because of the color of their skin. Robinson first broke the color barrier, just two years after the end of World War II, but up until then, African Americans were relegated to playing in exhibition games with other all-black teams.
It was in 1920, right at the beginning of Prohibition, that the Negro National League was founded. On February 13, Andrew “Rube” Foster—cofounder and manager of Chicago’s American Giants team—met with other owners at a YMCA in Kansas City, where they established the league in order to provide better salaries for players and create a reliable structure for the all-black teams.
One of the league’s charter members was the Kansas City Monarchs, which went on to become the longest-running Negro Leagues club and one of the winningest such teams in history. While the league only lasted 11 years, it saw success and spawned or inspired successor leagues that operated until 1960. In all, some of the best baseball players in history took swings and threw pitches in the various Negro Leagues, including Cool Papa Bell, Satchell Paige, KC’s own Buck O’Neil and even Jackie Robinson.
A Legacy That Lives On
Founded in 1990 by former Negro leagues players, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is an iconic establishment that pays tribute to those heroes of the past—and serves as a beacon of hope for change in the future.
The museum, which is officially designated as America’s Negro Leagues museum and is based in the heart of the 18th & Vine Historic Jazz District, uses baseball to tell the story of racial inequality, of injustice not only in the Jim Crow South but throughout the United States. It also tells the story of the African Americans who fought against these forces by playing the game that they loved well before they were viewed as equals.
In it, guests will find authentic memorabilia, photography, programs, equipment and more. Major League Baseball Hall of Famers such as Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard and Martín Dihigo all feature prominently, but the museum also celebrates lesser-known players—each equally deserving of the attention. Other highlights include a short film narrated by James Earl Jones and a small-scale, indoor baseball field populated by statues of legendary Negro Leagues players.
A regular stop among visiting dignitaries and celebrities, the museum ultimately serves as a mecca for history lovers, baseball fans and Major Leaguers (both retired and active). It’s a place where anyone can pay respects to the players, managers and executives who paved the way for social advancement in America.
In addition to the opening of the Buck O’Neil Education and Research Center, commemorate the 100th anniversary by enjoying special programming, new exhibits and more throughout the year:
- Feb. 13 – A recreation of the Negro National League charter signing, as well as the debut of a special centennial art exhibition, featuring more than 200 works illustrating the visual history of the Negro Leagues
- April 11 – Jazz & Jackie, an annual salute to civil rights pioneer and MLB Hall-of-Famer Jackie Robinson
- April 15 – Jackie Robinson Day marks the opening of a new permanent exhibit inside the museum
- May 2 – Recreation of the first official Negro National League game ever played (held in Indianapolis)
- May 17 – Salute to Negro Leagues at Kauffman Stadium, otherwise known as “Dressed to the Nines,” featuring Kansas City Royals players wearing 1945 Monarchs uniforms as they face off against the Los Angeles Dodgers
- June 13 – Hall of Game ceremony
- June 27 – All 30 MLB teams will honor the Negro Leagues by wearing a centennial patch during gameplay
- Aug. 1 – Heart of America Hot Dog Festival
- Sept. 26 – Buck O’Neil Walk
- Nov. 14 – Centennial Gala at Arvest Bank Theatre at The Midland