Is Bismarck the Birthplace of Integrated Sports in America?

Yes, says Dennis Boyd, President of the Bismarck Historical Society. There is validity to this argument. In his well-researched book, Color Blind: The Forgotten Team that Broke Baseball’s Color Line, author Tom Dunkel notes that Bismarck was the first integrated team to win a national championship in 1935. The 1935 Bismarck baseball team was a semi-pro team that included one of the best pitchers of all-time, Satchel Paige, who the Standing Rock Sioux called “Long Rifle.”

ColorBlind

I am a native North Dakotan, and I never realized that the state hosted semi-pro baseball during the 1930s. Town baseball was very popular and the rivalry between Bismarck and Jamestown was intense, with special trains carrying fans between the two towns. Team managers recruited the best players they could find nationally, often from the Negro leagues. Baseball provided town pride and inexpensive entertainment for the fan during this depression era. For the players, baseball was a good job to have during the Great Depression because it was steady work and it paid well.

Were people in the North racist towards baseball players? Maybe not to the extent of racism in the South, but yes there was racism in the North. Newspapers displayed stereotypical images and stereotypical language when quoting Black players. People called players names on the field. Most restaurants and hotels would not allow Blacks. Players crammed into private homes or special rooming houses. But Black players were often surrounded by kids and fans when walking the streets of Bismarck, giving autographs and accepting well wishes.

The main reason semi-pro baseball died in Bismarck, and North Dakota after the 1935 championship was money. Putting together a good team cost money. Team owners and management were lucky if they made money or broke even. Also, many ND citizens were on relief because of drought and the depression and even the cheap baseball tickets became a luxury few could afford. But for a brief time in the 1930s, the city of Bismarck and the state of North Dakota had the best integrated team in the country.

“We learn from history that we do not learn from history.” –George Wilhelm Hegel

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