Artifacts From National Negro League Players On Display Downtown

Feb 6, 2020

Before the Pirates became the first Major League team to field an all-black lineup, decades of National Negro League baseball transformed the game here in Pittsburgh.

The Pittsburgh City County Building will host the “Pittsburgh Negro League: Hall of Fame” display throughout February’s Black History month. The collection features profiles on key Pittsburgh Negro League players, which detail their personal history and statistics, alongside various memorabilia, like replica jerseys and team portraits.

At a community launch event Tuesday night, University of Pittsburgh history professor Rob Ruck spoke to the importance of Negro League baseball and its roots here in Pittsburgh, specifically the city’s two National Negro League teams — the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords.

“In a city that has used sport to tell its story to the world, African Americans have been, are, and will continue to be center stage,” Ruck said in his keynote speech.

 

Baseball was a segregated sport throughout much of the 20th century. Recently, however, some organizations, including the Pittsburgh Pirates and the City of Pittsburgh, have made efforts to recognize the contributions of National Negro League players.
Credit Maggie Young / 90.5 WESA

According to Ruck, many of the players in the Grays’ lineup came during the Great Migration in the 1890s from the upper south, traveling to Pittsburgh to work in factories and steel mills. The Crawfords were made up of migrants from the rural South during and after World War I. 

Socioeconomic differences within the black community sometimes resulted in conflict, but Ruck said the baseball field was isolated from these tensions.

“The great thing about baseball is that it unites the black community and gives it a degree of cohesion,” Ruck said. “It gives teams and heroes for people to root for.”

After the league’s collapsed during the Great Depression, it was rebooted in Pittsburgh in 1933. The League was permanently disbanded in 1947 as professional baseball integrated, but Ruck said the teams' legacies remains strong. 

The exhibit downtown is free to the public and will be on display until Feb. 29.