African-Americans began to engage the game of baseball in the mid to late 1800s. They played on military teams, college teams, and company teams. They eventually found their way to professional teams with white players. Moses Fleetwood Walker and Bud Fowler were among the first to participate. However, racism and "Jim Crow" laws would force them from these teams by 1900. Thus, black players formed their own units, "barnstorming" around the country to play anyone who would challenge them.
In 1920, an organized league structure was formed under the guidance of Andrew "Rube" Foster, a former player, manager, and owner for the Chicago American Giants. In a meeting held at the Paseo YMCA in Kansas City, Mo., Foster and a few other Midwestern team owners joined to form the Negro National League. Soon, rival leagues formed in Eastern and Southern states, bringing the thrills and innovative play of black baseball to major urban centers and rural country sides in the U.S., Canada, and Latin America. The Leagues maintained a high level of professional skill and became centerpieces for economic development in many black communities.
Baseball was a rich cultural and commercial phenomenon for an Afro-Atlantic culture in the Americas, beginning in the 19th century, reaching an apex with the Negro Leagues, and continuing today with many individuals contributing to the history of the game. When speaking of Negro Leagues Baseball, one should be distinguishing the highest level of professional baseball played among African-Americans principally from 1920-1955. Professional leagues functioned primarily in the Midwest, Northeast, and less frequently in the southeastern United States. These leagues and teams established a high level of skill and entertainment throughout North America. African American involvement in baseball, however, is a multi-layered story. Community teams, college teams, community economics, ownership, wealth consolidation, Latin influences, media coverage, military service, and women's roles are all entwined in the general study of the subject.
In 1945, Major League Baseball's Brooklyn Dodgers recruited Jackie Robinson from the Kansas City Monarchs. Robinson became the first African-American in the modern era to play on a Major League roster. While this historic event was a key moment in baseball and civil rights history, it prompted the decline of the Negro Leagues. The best black players were now recruited for the Major Leagues, and black fans followed.
The last Negro Leagues teams folded in the early 1960s, but their legacy lives on through the surviving players and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.