Friday, December 11, 2009

19th Century African-American High School Baseball In St. Louis

It was the Colored High School nine that defeated the colored Brown Stockings on Saturday. The Central High School boys request this statement.
-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, June 6, 1876

This is a rather extraordinary little notice. If I'm reading this correctly the "Colored High School" is Sumner High School. Sumner opened in 1875 in St. Louis and was the first high school for African-American students west of the Mississippi. Some noted Sumner alums include Chuck Berry, Arthur Ashe and Tina Turner. And it looks like they had a pretty good baseball club in 1876. That's very exciting information.

The second sentence is also of interest. Central was the first high school west of the Mississippi and opened in 1853. It was segregated by race (and possibly sex, although I'm unsure about that) and admitted only white students. This segregation provided the impetus for the opening of Sumner twenty years later. One can infer from the request of the Central students that they may also have had a baseball club and wanted it publicly known that they would not have played against a black club.

As I said, this is very exciting because this is the earliest evidence that we have of baseball being played in St. Louis at the high school level. We have evidence of baseball being played by college students during the antebellum era but this is new stuff. This isn't to say that these clubs are official, school-sanctioned organizations because they most likely are not but at the same time they are clubs made up of high school students playing baseball.

At the same time, it's evidence of amateur youth baseball among the African-American community in St. Louis and it's the first time I've come across something like that. Evidence regarding this level of amateur baseball among blacks in St. Louis is just very rare in my experience. We know quite a bit about low level amateur baseball among the white community in St. Louis because it was covered by the local papers. It was covered by The Sporting News for a long time. But low level amateur baseball among the black community was ignored. For the most part, even the best black clubs in St. Louis were ignored or only infrequently covered.

Therefore, I have to say that this little two sentence notice in the Globe is fairly significant and greatly expands our knowledge about 19th century St. Louis baseball.

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