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.
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.
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.
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.
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.