Race Relations Within Baseball
Conflicting perceptions of race relations within American society have been well documented from its inception as a nation to the present and the sport of baseball is without exception. As the Savannah Indians’ 1947 championship season ended, the color barrier of baseball was torn down. On April 18, 1946, Jackie Robinson of Cairo, GA became the first African-American to play for a non-segregated minor league team and three days short of a year he made his debut in Major League Baseball. As with the rest of America, Savannah shined with great examples of support regarding civil rights and disgrace to the contrary.
Although short-lived, Savannah was the home of two teams, the Broads and the Lafayettes, in the first professional African-American sports league, the Southern League of Colored Ballists. No other Negro League teams called Savannah home after 1886.
The issue of segregation permeated the southern states. In Savannah, the majority of Daffin Park was prohibited for African-Americans with the exception of Grayson Stadium. The 1953 team fielded two African-American players, third baseman, Al “Izzy” Israel and right fielder, Junior Reedy in Jacksonville, FL “where several years earlier gates had been padlocked to exclude Jackie Robinson, local fans had the privilege of watching nineteen-year-old Henry Aaron pound his way to the Most Valuable Player Award. Attendance in Jacksonville increased by 135 percent”. The same attendance success followed within the confines of Grayson Stadium.
In 1962, the Savannah White Sox relocated in the middle of the season due to protests from the NAACP regarding segregated seating and baseball at Grayson Stadium laid dormant for six long years. The summer of 1968 brought the Senators and two years later, the return of the Indians, for one year.
Ten years after the fiasco of White Sox management taking the team from Savannah to Lynchburg, VA, Tommie Aaron became the manager of the Savannah Braves. Brother of Hank Aaron, Tommie Aaron was the first African-American AA team Manager and the first in the deep South.
Another first occurred in Savannah in 1986. Inter-Urban Industries bought the Savannah Cardinals making the team the first African-American owned professional team on any level since the close of the National Negro League in 1954. Tygiel, Jules. Baseball’s Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy. Oxford University Press: New York. 1983: 273.