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The Baltimore Elite Giants

Sport and Society in the Age of Negro League Baseball

Bob Luke

Publication Year: 2009

One of the best-known teams in the old Negro Leagues, the Elite Giants of Baltimore featured some of the outstanding African American players of the day. Sociologist and baseball writer Bob Luke narrates the untold story of the team and its interaction with the city and its people during the long years of segregation. To convey a sense of the action on the field and the major events in the team’s history, Luke highlights important games, relives the standout performances of individual players, and discusses key decisions made by management. He introduces the team’s eventual major league stars: Roy Campanella, who went on to a ten-year Hall of Fame career with the Brooklyn Dodgers; Joe Black, the first African American pitcher to win a World Series game; and James “Junior” Gilliam, a player and coach with the Dodgers for twenty-five years. Luke also describes the often contentious relationship between the team and major league baseball before, during, and after the major leagues were integrated. The Elite Giants did more than provide entertainment for Baltimore’s black residents; the team and its star players broke the color barrier in the major leagues, giving hope to an African American community still oppressed by Jim Crow. In recounting the history of the Elite Giants, Luke reveals how the team, its personalities, and its fans raised public awareness of the larger issues faced by blacks in segregation-era Baltimore. Based on interviews with former players and Baltimore residents, articles from the black press of the time, and archival documents, and illustrated with previously unpublished photographs, The Baltimore Elite Giants recounts a barrier-breaking team’s successes, failures, and eventual demise.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-v


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p. vii

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Baseball on a Shoestring

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pp. 1-15

The five-game series between the Baltimore Elite (pronounced e-e-e-light) Giants and the Washington-Homestead Grays to determine the Negro National League championship for 1948 was one of the strangest series of games in all of professional baseball. At the end of the....

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pp. 16-42

Newspapers often referred to Smiling Tom Wilson’s squad as “the well-traveled Elite Giants.” They played their first game in 1921 in Nashville, Tennessee, and joined the Negro National League in 1929. The Great Depression....

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2. Pennants and Jumpers

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pp. 43-68

Resolved to improve on the results of their maiden season in Baltimore, the Elites opened spring training on April 2, 1939, once again in Nashville. Tom Wilson appointed Felton Snow to manage the team...

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3.War on the Home Front

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pp. 69-94

World War II had engulfed the European and Pacific theaters as the 1942 season opened. Major League Baseball commissioner Kenesaw “Mountain” Landis, in a letter to President Roosevelt, questioned...

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4. Bending the Color Bar

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pp. 95-133

By 1946 Negro leaguers were returning from the war to full-time baseball. The returnees included Elites and ex- Elites—Sammy T. Hughes, Joe Black, Bill Burns, Bill Harvey, Johnny Washington, and Frazier Robinson....

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Integration, Disintegration

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pp. 134-144

The American League St. Louis Browns came to town in April of 1954 and took the name Baltimore Orioles, which the International League Orioles no longer needed, because they moved to Richmond, Virginia. In February...

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pp. 145-148

Now that I am retired, in the sense that I voluntarily left the world of employment after a forty-year career in human resource development, I can pursue my hobby of writing baseball history on a full-time basis. The more I write, the more I meet people who...

appendix a. a brief history of black baseball in baltimore before the elite giants

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pp. 149-151

appendix b. baltimore elite giants baseball club operating statement, 1947

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p. 152

appendix c. baltimore elite giants standings, 1938–1951

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pp. 153-156


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pp. 157-182

suggested reading

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pp. 183-184


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pp. 185-192

E-ISBN-13: 9781421401737
E-ISBN-10: 1421401738
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801891168
Print-ISBN-10: 0801891167

Page Count: 208
Illustrations: 41 halftones
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 794701448
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Baltimore Elite Giants

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • African American baseball players -- History.
  • Baseball -- Maryland -- Baltimore -- History.
  • Discrimination in sports -- United States -- History.
  • Baltimore Elite Giants (Baseball team) -- History.
  • Negro leagues -- History.
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