February 21: HBCUs Powered the Negro Leagues — and Produced a Far More Educated Workforce Than the Major Leagues

The best untold story of Black baseball in the United States is the one in which the pursuit of a higher education was front and centerfield in the lives of many Black baseball players.

“When we go back and we look at the stereotypical perception of Black athletes, particularly in that era, it was that they weren’t smart enough to play in the major leagues,” said Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.

The perception that Black players were not smart enough to play in the major league was particularly ironic given that more Negro League players had a college education than Major Leaguers, seeing as Major League baseball recruited players right out of high school into its farm system. An estimated 40 percent of Negro League players had college educations, and most were from historically Black colleges and universities, according to Kendrick.

“The Negro Leagues didn’t have a minor league system like the major leagues did. … Their primary source of recruiting their workforce was on the HBCU campuses,” said Kendrick, who added that Negro League teams did spring training on HBCU campuses as well as played in exhibition games against the HBCU teams.

“These men weren’t the vagabonds or tramps they’re being sold as,” Kendrick said. “They were very well-educated men who did significant things with their lives after their [baseball] careers.”

It isn’t just the Negro Leagues that HBCU baseball has powered; according to BlackCollegeNines.com, HBCU players have been selected in 30 consecutive MLB drafts.

Much of this story is excerpted from a 2015 article I wrote for Diverse: Issues In Higher Education. Read the full article here: https://diverseeducation.com/article/71229/

Autumn A. Arnett is an education reporter and editor and an avid sports fan based in Austin, Texas. www.a2arnett.com