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Negro League Baseball Timeline

The color line in baseball was drawn in 1887 when African Americans were banned from playing on white teams in the International League. It was 33 years later before disenfranchised black baseball players had a league of their own. Andrew "Rube" Foster, a talented player and visionary who believed that only through organization could Black baseball reach its full potential, formed the Negro National League in 1920.

Created out of adversity, Negro Leagues baseball became the second largest Black business in the nation, second only to Black insurance companies.

Moses Fleetwood Walker
Moses Fleetwood Walker (back row center), a college sensation at Oberlin, was the first Black to play pro baseball in a Major League. Here Walker is shown in 1884 with Toledo of the American Association, a major league one rung below the National League. Racism forced Walker off the team after one season and no black played in the Majors again until 1947. Photograph courtesy of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
Andrew 'Rube' Foster
Andrew "Rube" Foster, father of the Negro Leagues, became the most powerful and influential man in the game. In 1981, Foster was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame as he was recognized as an outstanding athlete, manager and owner. He is indisputably one of the most significant figures in the history of baseball. Photograph courtesy of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

Two of the most successful teams to play in the Negro Leagues, the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords, had their beginnings on the sandlots and playgrounds in the Pittsburgh area.

Homestead Grays
Homestead Grays, Champions of Homestead and vicinity, 1913. Cumberland Posey, middle row, third from the left. Photograph courtesy of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh Crawfords
The Pittsburgh Crawfords, winners of a city youth championship, posed on the steps of the Carnegie Library on the Hill in Pittsburgh. Photograph from the Harold Tinker collection courtesy of Rob Ruck.

The Homestead Grays played as independents for much of their early history, with great success. The 1931 team, with five future Hall of Famers on the roster, is considered by some as the greatest Black team of all time. The team spent some of their most successful years, from 1934 through 1948, in the newly reorganized Negro National League. During this time, the Grays won nine consecutive Negro National League pennants, 1939-45, and a tenth in 1948.

The Pittsburgh Crawfords also spent their earliest years (1931-32) as independents. They joined the newly reorganized Negro National League in 1933 and were immediately recognized as a leading team in the league. The team won the 1935 and 1936 season pennants, and the 1935 club is regarded by many as the greatest Black baseball team of all time.

1930 Homestead Grays
1930 Homestead Grays Photograph courtesy of the National Baseball Library, Cooperstown, N.Y.
1935 Pittsburgh Crawfords
1935 Pittsburgh Crawfords, featuring five future Hall of Famers. Photograph courtesy of Rob Ruck.

In Pittsburgh, the Crawfords and the Grays were a source of great pride that offered a cultural counterpoint to the limitations encountered by blacks in the workplace, in society and in politics.

When Jackie Robinson broke the Major League color barrier in 1947, Pittsburgh witnessed the transformation of both the game of baseball and people's perception of a segment of the population unjustly treated as second-class citizens and third-rate ballplayers.

Colored Waiting Room
In the 1940s, Black and white Americans were fighting halfway around the world to uphold human rights and defeat racial and social oppression, while condoning it at home. Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey
Jackie Robinson and Brooklyn Dodgers owner, Branch Rickey. Robinson broke the Major League Baseball color barrier in 1947. Photograph courtesy of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

The Pittsburgh Pirates signed their first Black player, Curt Roberts, on April 19, 1954, and on September 1, 1971, the team brought about one of the most significant milestones in the racial history of Major League Baseball when they fielded the first all-Black lineup.