Baseball and Race barrier in the 19th Century

By Andres Rodriguez

Negro League player 1880

Unidentified Negro Ball Player- 1880 Baseball Hall of Fame

The game of Baseball was invented sometime in the late 19th century. Although there is no concrete evidence of when or who exactly invented Baseball, it only took a short amount of time to be considered America’s pastime. The picture of the identified negro ball player is a very symbolic, especially for black people living in America at the time. There is not an ample amount of photographs taken in the 19th century of negro ball players. No surprise but racism was still occurring in both social and political contexts. This photograph is very symbolic in a sense that it gave black people a sense of equality and identity. Not only can white people play baseball but so can black people. According to Devon Carbado’s Racial naturalization essay, one of her arguments is about racism and the naturalization process for American Identity thru exclusion and inclusion. While this picture is symbolic for the black population, this is just another example of how negros where being excluded but also included  due to the way they look. In a time where Jim Crow laws were beginning established in the America, baseball was also effected by Jim Crow laws.  Black people were discriminated due to the dominant “superior race.” Devon Carbado mentions in her essay that “De Jure Racial Naturalization occurs when race is intentionally and explicitly used to establish an American identity” and she also gives an example of the Plessy vs. Ferguson Case that gives racial segregation to be constitutional. (Carbado 15) Black people were faced with racial segregation in America after the 1896 case of Plessy vs. Ferguson. The picture was dated in 1880 so it was around the time where Jim Crow laws were being established in America. Black people who did see this photograph did feel a sense of American identity even though the Plessy vs. Ferguson case formally excluded black people from obtaining identity. Black were included in America but also excluded by Jim Crow laws.

Although black people were segregated in America in the late 19th century, baseball helped black people become less segregated in a social sense. After the 19th century, baseball was only getting more popular and Jim Crow laws were still in place, negro ball players were formed and later established its own league, the negro league. It is important to mention the 20th century because the color barrier was coming to an end in baseball. According to Donn Rogosin, author of Invisible Men: Life in Baseball negro leagues, he writes about the overall lives of negro ball players and the impact it had on the black population in America.

“the importance of the Negro leagues transcended the world of sport. A small group of black men, with remarkable skills, reached far above the menial and the mundane…When their baseball victories came against white opponents, they undermined segregation itself” – Donn Rogosin, Visible Men: Life in Baseball Negro leagues

Negro leagues were established in the 20th century but if it was not for people like the one unidentified negro player it helped give hope for the black population in America.

The photograph of the unidentified negro ball player was very symbolic. It was taken in 1880 where Jim Crow laws were starting to be established thus undermining black identity in America. This photograph helped black people gain a sense of identity. They were not black people playing baseball, they were just people playing baseball. It became America’s national pastime where anyone could play baseball regardless of race.


Devon W., Carbado. 2005. “Racial Naturalization.” American Quarterly no. 3: 633. JSTOR Journals, EBSCOhost (accessed December 17, 2017).

Rogosin, Donn. Invisible Men: Life in Baseball’s Negro Leagues. U of Nebraska Press, 2007.

Unidentified Negro Leagues Player photograph, 1880. Baseball Hall of Fame archives.


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