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Conspiracy of Silence

Sportswriters and the Long Campaign to Desegregate Baseball

Chris Lamb

Publication Year: 2012

The campaign to desegregate baseball was one of the most important civil rights stories of the 1930s and 1940s. But most of white America knew nothing about this story because mainstream newspapers said little about the color line and less about the efforts to end it. Even today, as far as most Americans know, the integration of baseball revolved around Branch Rickey’s signing of Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers’ organization in 1945. This book shows how Rickey’s move, critical as it may well have been, came after more than a decade of work by black and left-leaning journalists to desegregate the game.

Drawing on hundreds of newspaper articles and interviews with journalists, Chris Lamb reveals how differently black and white newspapers, and black and white America, viewed racial equality. He shows how white mainstream sportswriters perpetuated the color line by participating in what their black counterparts called a “conspiracy of silence.” Between 1933 and 1945, black newspapers and the Communist Daily Worker published hundreds of articles and editorials calling for an end to baseball’s color line. The efforts of the alternative presses to end baseball’s color line, chronicled for the first time in Conspiracy of Silence, constitute one of baseball’s—and the civil rights movement’s—great untold stories.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiii

I am indebted to the late Jules Tygiel, whose book Baseball’s Great Experiment gave me an appreciation for the human drama and historical importance of the story of the desegregation of baseball. Professor Tygiel’s writing took many...

Part 1

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pp. 1-26

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Chapter 1: White Sportswriters and Minstrel Shows

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pp. 3-26

On February 5, 1933, the inside of the grand ballroom of New York City’s Commodore Hotel crackled with laughter during an evening of songs, skits, and speeches at the tenth annual New York Baseball Writers’ Association dinner...

Part 2

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pp. 27-106

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Chapter 2: The Color Line Is Drawn

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pp. 29-56

Alfred Henry Spink published the first issue of the Sporting News on March 17, 1886, in an office building at 11 North Eighth Street in St. Louis, Missouri. The entrepreneurial Spink saw the opportunity to capitalize on the growing popularity...

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Chapter 3: Invisible Men

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pp. 57-84

When Sam Lacy was two years old in 1905, his family moved from Mystic, Connecticut, to Washington dc. Lacy grew up near Griffith Stadium, home field of the Nationals, who would later change their name to the...

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Chapter 4: "Agitators" and "Social-Minded Drum Beaters"

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pp. 85-106

On August 13, 1936, the Daily Worker announced the following: The Crime of the Big Leagues! The newspapers have carefully hushed it up! One of the most sordid stories in American...

Part 3

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pp. 107-155

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Chapter 5: "L'Affaire Jake Powell"

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pp. 109-131

During a pregame interview at Comiskey Park in Chicago on July 29, 1938, WGN radio announcer Bob Elson asked New York Yankees outfielder Jake Powell what he did during the off-season. Powell said that he was a policeman...

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Chapter 6: Major League Managers and Ballplayers Call for End of Color Line

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pp. 133-155

On the morning of Sunday, February 19, 1939, Wendell Smith, the assistant sports editor of the Pittsburgh Courier, sat down with National League president Ford Frick in the lobby of the William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh. If there was indeed a formal policy...

Part 4

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pp. 157-279

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Chapter 7: The Double V Campaign

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pp. 159-186

On August 23, 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union signed a nonaggression pact that said the countries would not attack one another. This allowed German chancellor Adolf Hitler to attack Poland without interference from its neighbor...

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Chapter 8: "The Great White Father" Speaks

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pp. 187-215

On June 22, 1942, Conrad Komorowski of the Daily Worker interviewed Kenesaw Mountain Landis for an hour and a half in the commissioner’s office at 333 North Michigan Avenue in Chicago. Komorowski said he began the interview by asking...

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Chapter 9: Black Editors Make Their Case for Desegregation

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pp. 217-248

On December 1 Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis and the rest of the baseball establishment met at the Palmer House in Chicago for Major League Baseball’s annual meetings where league and team executives discussed...

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Chapter 10: "Get Those Niggers Off the Field"

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pp. 249-279

Shortly after Joe Bostic left his home in Harlem at 7:30 a.m. on April 6, he discovered he had a flat tire. He had the tire patched, filled the car with gas, and called Terris McDuffie and Dave “Showboat” Thomas to let them know he was running...

Part 5

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pp. 281-304

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Chapter 11: Robinson Becomes the Chosen One

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pp. 283-304

In the early afternoon of Tuesday, October 23, 1945, Hector Racine, president of the Montreal Royals, the Brooklyn Dodgers AAA team, told reporters he had a big announcement to make at 5:00 p.m. at the team’s offices at Delormier...

Part 6

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Chapter 12: "I Never Want to Take Another Trip Like This One"

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pp. 307-334

Before sportswriters left en masse for spring training, the New York chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association held its twenty-third annual meeting at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on February 3. The all-white crowd included twelve hundred journalists...


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pp. 335-362


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pp. 363-374


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pp. 375-397

E-ISBN-13: 9780803240209
E-ISBN-10: 0803240201
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803210769

Page Count: 408
Publication Year: 2012