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The Kings of Casino Park: Black Baseball in the Lost Season of 1932

Overview

In the 1930s, Monroe, Louisiana, was a town of twenty-six thousand in the northeastern corner of the state, an area described by the New Orleans Item as the “lynch law center of Louisiana.” race relations were bad, and the Depression was pitiless for most, especially for the working class—a great many of whom had no work at all or seasonal work at best. Yet for a few years in the early 1930s, this unlikely spot was home to the Monarchs, a national-caliber Negro League baseball team. Crowds of black and white fans...

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The Kings of Casino Park: Black Baseball in the Lost Season of 1932

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Overview

In the 1930s, Monroe, Louisiana, was a town of twenty-six thousand in the northeastern corner of the state, an area described by the New Orleans Item as the “lynch law center of Louisiana.” race relations were bad, and the Depression was pitiless for most, especially for the working class—a great many of whom had no work at all or seasonal work at best. Yet for a few years in the early 1930s, this unlikely spot was home to the Monarchs, a national-caliber Negro League baseball team. Crowds of black and white fans eagerly filled their segregated grandstand seats to see the players who would become the only World Series team Louisiana would ever generate, and the first from the American South.
 
By 1932, the team had as good a claim to the national baseball championship of black America as any other. Partisans claim, with merit, that league officials awarded the National Championship to the Chicago American Giants in flagrant violation of the league’s own rules: times were hard and more people would pay to see a Chicago team than an outfit from the Louisiana back country. Black newspapers in the South rallied to support Monroe’s cause, railing against the league and the bias of black newspapers in the North, but the decision, unfair though it may have been, was also the only financially feasible option for the league’s besieged leadership, who were struggling to maintain a black baseball league in the midst of the Great Depression.
 
Aiello addresses long-held misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the Monarchs’ 1932 season. He tells the almost-unknown story of the team—its time, its fortunes, its hometown—and positions black baseball in the context of American racial discrimination. He illuminates the culture-changing power of a baseball team and the importance of sport in cultural and social history.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“An excellent study of black baseball and history, [The Kings of Casino Park] covers a lot of unknown history about the Negro Southern Leagues in the post-Depression era and their interactions with southern residents before the civil rights movement.” —Larry Lester, author of Black Baseball’s National Showcase: The East-West All-Star Game, 1933-1953

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780817317423
  • Publisher: University of Alabama Press
  • Publication date: 8/7/2011
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 264
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas Aiello is an assistant professor of history at Valdosta State University in Georgia and the author of Bayou Classic: The Grambling-Southern Football Rivalry.

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Read an Excerpt

The Kings of Casino Park

Black Baseball in the Lost Season of 1932
By THOMAS AIELLO

THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA PRESS

Copyright © 2011 The University of Alabama Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8173-1742-3


Chapter One

The Horror

Race Culture in the "Lynch Law Center of Louisiana"

At 2:30 on Tuesday afternoon, April 30, 1919, George Bolden lay on a cot in a baggage car of the Vicksburg, Shreveport, and Pacific Railroad, on his way to Shreveport, Louisiana. The wounds that had taken off his right leg were new, as were the memories of three attempts on his life in fewer than forty hours. His wife accompanied him among the "Negro baggage" as both hoped the slow train would help them escape to Shreveport faster, faster, faster. But at 2:34, only eight miles outside of Monroe, Louisiana, near the small community of Cheniere, someone pulled the bell cord for an immediate stop. A group of white men boarded the car, threw Bolden to the ground outside, and riddled him with bullets. The train began moving again almost immediately, and Bolden's wife, prevented by the mob from disembarking, continued a lonely journey west. Her mind was probably racing with memories of the previous night, when a mob had entered the Negro ward of the St. Francis sanitarium, Monroe's only hospital, and tried forcibly to remove her husband—and how the nurses and nuns of the hospital bore the mob back.

The fight against lynching trudged through another tumultuous year in 1919. Editorials throughout Louisiana and the South decried the practice, accompanying broader calls for cessation in the national media. The NAACP held a widely publicized national conference on lynching, the hallmark of the organization's decades-long crusade against white southern "justice." The United States' total of eighty-three lynchings in 1919 was never matched in subsequent years. But through these seeming successes, no federal anti-lynch law was ever passed, a significant drop in yearly lynching totals did not happen until 1923, and the Red Summer of 1919—a series of riots and other forms of racial violence in the North as well as the South—did not end until October. Lynchings continued, as did the crusade against them.

Bolden's murder would serve as a public emblem of north Louisiana's intransigent racism and reputation for violence. A New Orleans editorialist would brand the event "the Monroe Horror." Bolden's story began on March 11, 1918, with the shooting of Charles L. Thomas, a white railroad agent for a Missouri Pacific station just south of Monroe. Clyde Williams, an African American, was indicted for the crime by the Ouachita Parish Grand Jury. But sheriff 's deputies kept Williams in neighboring Caldwell Parish, fearing mob reprisals. On April 22, their fear was realized. A mob dragged Williams from a train bound for Monroe and killed him. The wounds to Thomas had left him blind, and the charitable donations of his friends and family built a new cottage for him and his wife on Lee Avenue. Just over a year after the lynching of Thomas's alleged attacker, on Saturday, April 27, 1919, a lewd note appeared on the door of the Lee avenue cottage. With her husband incapacitated, Thomas's wife gave the note to family friends. Each saw that the note was signed "George Bolden."

George Bolden worked as a paperhanger, painter, and carpenter. He endorsed his paychecks for those jobs with an X. Like more than a quarter of Monroe's black population, he could neither read nor write. Nevertheless, friends of the Thomas family arrived at Bolden's house en masse around 11 p.m. Sunday night. They fired five shots at Bolden, and though four missed their mark, one bullet shattered his right shin. After the crowd dispersed, Bolden's wife managed to get her husband to the sanitarium, where doctors amputated his leg.

Bolden recuperated in the "colored ward" of St. Francis Sanitarium through the following Monday, until a group of white men came calling for him around nine o'clock that night. The two nurses on duty told the men that Bolden was gone, but the mob attacked a man they assumed to be Bolden, driving him into a state of shock that persisted until his death the following morning. The group dispersed after the police arrived. A local officer gave the nurses a pistol to ensure their safety. When the mob returned in an hour with reinforcements, the nurses and nuns held them off, one wielding the gun and daring the group to enter the ward. She fired a warning shot into the air, dispersing the crowd. The nurses even caught one of the throng, held him, and turned him over to the police upon their second visit. The police, however, waited half an hour before responding to the nurses' call and allowed the prisoner to escape after removing him from the sanitarium.

Immediately following the incident, Mayor H. D. Apgar ordered the sheriff 's office to take charge of Bolden. At two o'clock early Tuesday morning, sheriffs took him to the city jail for the rest of the night. When day broke, Bolden's wife took custody of him. Fearing reprisals from yet another mob, the two boarded the 2:10 passenger train to Shreveport, but never made it past Cheniere.

Bolden's lynching was part of a broader "Red Summer" of racial violence. Americans were just settling into their mistrust and vilification of Soviet Russia. (Monroe's Lyceum Theatre, in fact, presented A Midnight Romance on the day of Bolden's death, an Anita Stewart silent film depicting a sordid love affair between a wealthy man from an established family and a deceitful woman, played by Stewart. Her trickery is finally forgiven when the mysterious woman explains that she is a princess who is ever-threatened by Bolshevism.) But red summer was named for the blood it produced. While the majority of American eyes were focused firmly on Paris and the peace conference that ended the Great War, violence at home kept them glancing back to their own domestic trouble. Beginning in Charleston, south Carolina, a series of twenty-six race riots from May to October shook the optimism brought by peace. Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Omaha, and Chicago, among other cities, would all soon follow. Over eighty-three were killed. Still, while the racial violence was incredibly troubling for a nation emerging from a war "to make the world safe for democracy," the riots demonstrated something fundamentally different from the violence in Monroe. Those northern cities—Chicago, Baltimore, Washington—had thriving black communities, willing to fight against racial unfairness in whatever form it took.

Baseball was both a representation of black social and economic strength and a constituent part of its existence in such northern urban areas. While the Bolden case dragged on through the summer of 1919, and race riots consumed the cities, black baseball remained a staple in the metropolitan North. African Americans had played baseball since the game's inception in the 1850s, and the game continued to grow throughout reconstruction, particularly in the East Coast hubs of New York, Philadelphia, and Washington. But such growth wasn't limited to the Northeast. New Orleans, for example—the nation's fifth largest city in the 1860s—was a hotbed for baseball in the Civil War era, and black teams thrived, often playing teams of area whites. Still, New Orleans was an exception to the general southern rule, as the progression of baseball—black and white—lagged behind that of the industrialized North. And with the onset of Jim Crow in the early 1890s, even the interracial contests of the south's largest city disappeared.

Meanwhile, the teams of the North soldiered on, and as the nineteenth century became the twentieth, the profusion of independent baseball clubs led to fledgling attempts to organize them into a league. But the international league of Colored Baseball Clubs in America and Cuba, founded in 1906, wouldn't last. Nor would the National Association of Colored Baseball Clubs of the United States and Cuba. Teams developed in every major northern urban area, however, and various barnstorming aggregations emerged to ensure that intercity rivalries would continue to pay dividends. The 1919 season would prove decisive. While the Boldens suffered in northeast Louisiana, Harlem's Lincoln Giants, Atlantic City's Bacharach Giants, and Chicago's American Giants all played to sellout crowds. The royal Giants of Brooklyn, the Hilldale club of Philadelphia—all performed well. All made money. But a New York ownership monopoly kept teams from the Midwest out of the New York market. There were secret negotiations, backbiting, and territorial disputes, and the arguments would lead many owners to push for a league formation that would mitigate such tensions. Still, such bickering would not have been possible without strong owners and successful businesses, each competing for their share of the black baseball market. That kind of infrastructure was simply absent in the south, and its absence was one of the many reasons the hangman's noose was able to dominate the region.

To highlight its 1919 push for anti-lynching legislation, the NAACP held a national conference on lynching at Carnegie Hall in New York. In conjunction with the event, John R. Schillady, the association's national secretary, sent a telegram to Louisiana governor Ruffin G. Pleasant, urging him to "demand legal authorities proceed energetically to apprehend lynchers and bring them to trial." The request, unsurprisingly, would fall on deaf ears. Though Louisiana seemed legitimately frustrated by the continued racial violence in Monroe, the messages of the NAACP'S anti-lynching campaign were fundamentally different from those of the state's pundits in the wake of the Bolden lynching.

They were also different from the messages of the broader anti-lynching movement in the South. The year following the Bolden murder, a group of racially moderate southerners created the Commission on Interracial Cooperation (CIC), which assumed the mantle of southern interracial reform for the next two decades. The group attempted to secure better housing and education for the growing black middle class. The CIC also sought to end mob violence, but it specifically argued against a federal lynch law. Segregation was the "Southern Way of Life"—as was racial inequality. Any federal legislation directed toward southern race relationships would set a dangerous precedent, as well as infringe upon the solemn right of the states to make such decisions themselves.

Herbert J. Seligmann described the Bolden lynching, among others, as a symptom of a perverted desire to protect southern womanhood. "For the benefit of those unfamiliar with the increasingly popular sport of 'protecting Southern womanhood' it should be noted that the objects of this sport are usually United States citizens of dark skin—Negroes." From Bolden's phantom signature on his note to Mrs. Thomas to his murder outside of Cheniere, Seligmann portrayed the entire debacle as a misapplication of southern notions of chivalry.

The lynching debate in Louisiana, and Monroe in particular, seemed to validate Seligmann's argument. The News-Star, Monroe's only newspaper in 1919, took a defensive stance from the outset, titling its coverage of the first attack on Bolden "Insulting Note Costs Negro a Leg." The following day, coverage of the St. Francis attack and the Cheniere train murder was straightforward, without praise for the nurses and nuns or condemnation of the mob. Along with the New Orleans press, newspapers in Little Rock and Memphis ran similar Associated Press wire stories. The failed attempt on Bolden's life at the hospital was secondary to coverage of his murder the following afternoon.

The reporting, however, seemed inadequate to the nurses of St. Francis, and the following day, an unknown number of them published a letter to the editor on the front page of the News-Star. "It was with great surprise and indignation that we read the account given in yesterday's News-Star," the letter began. It recounted the capture of a member of the mob and the fear and apprehension the events of the evening created among the nurses. "It certainly seems strange," the letter stated, "that the man who was caught could be held by ladies, but made his escape from the officers." They concluded indignantly, "We think it a disgrace to Monroe for a mob to come to the sanitarium to carry out their vengeance, and to scare the nurses and patients, when they easily could have waited until the patient was carried home." The letter was signed, "The Nurses."

During the following two days, letters to the editor appeared in the News-Star denouncing the violence at the hospital. "The whole thing savours of what we considered was peculiar to our Teuton foes," said the first. The letters decried the practice of mob action, but only mentioned "this mob action of last Monday night"—the mob's entry into the sanitarium. "Even the 'Unspeakable Turk' spares from attack the hospitals of his enemy," noted the second letter. The pastor and congregation of Monroe's First Baptist Church also registered their indignation with a formal resolution passed at a Victory Liberty Loan rally on Sunday, May 4. Again, the nurses' situation was the principal focus of ire, as the congregation "emphatically register our protest and disapproval of the unwarranted and cowardly actions of the mob which unlawfully entered our good sanitarium recently and tried to intimidate its nurses into submitting to their unlawful purposes. This and subsequent actions of the mob stand as a blot on the fair name of our city." Bolden's murder was never mentioned.

At the time, the New Orleans Item chided Monroe as the "lynch law center of Louisiana" and told of its "several lynchings" in recent months. That was an understatement. From the turn of the century to the close of 1918, the region found thirty of its black citizens lynched. Between 1889 and 1922, Monroe's Ouachita Parish witnessed more lynchings than any other county in the nation. It was, per capita, the most racially violent place in America. The Item reminded readers that hospitals are "filled with sick people, people recovering from operations; not Negroes alone, but white people of high standing." It wondered "what Monroe will do now. Will it stand for the forcible invasion of a hospital full of sick white people, conducted by white nurses, by a masked mob bent upon murder?" The indignation now turned to the reputation of Monroe, and the News-Star was quick to fire back. It correctly described its role as news hub for a large rural coverage area in northeast Louisiana and southeast Arkansas, explaining that lynching news from within that broad swath carried Monroe datelines, thus marring the city's name by default. It also correctly explained that the colored ward of St. Francis was a separate building that held no white patients.

The News-Star's defense of Monroe's general white population (and its subsequent denial of the local culture's role in supporting mob violence) then drifted further from anger at the mob murder. "Whenever a Negro violates the sanctity of the home of any white man, or insults any white woman, he may as well send a hurry call for the undertaker," it explained. "The great majority of the people abhor and detest the resort to mob law, but they recognize the fact that it is infinitely preferable to deal quickly and summarily with the Negro who steps over the forbidden bounds." The editorial argued that the mob should not have entered the sanitarium looking for a man whose guilt was far from certain. The News-Star blamed law enforcement. If officials had enforced the laws and swiftly meted out justice, then the white populace would never have been put in such an unfortunate position. And did not law enforcement officials lose the nurses' prisoner? "So, after all, the officials, from the highest to the lowest, are in a large measure, directly responsible for the contempt in which many people hold the courts and the officials."

On May 13, new city leaders took an oath of office at Monroe's city hall. A board of commissioners replaced the former aldermanic administrative system. There were high hopes for new mayor Arnold Bernstein and his fellow commissioners. "These men," reported the News-Star, "will lessen and somewhat relieve the City of Monroe of the odium and unenviable notoriety which has come upon it." Bernstein would serve for the next twenty years, presiding over the city throughout the monarchs' run as a professional baseball team. He was perhaps the most successful mayor in Monroe's history. He oversaw the construction of parks and schools, an electric plant, and a natatorium. Along with other city leaders, Bernstein proved instrumental in the creation and promotion of Northeast Junior College, Monroe's first endeavor into higher education. But success did not seem so obvious in 1919. "There is much to be done," reported the News-Star, "before Monroe will take her proper place in the procession of progressive municipalities."

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The Kings of Casino Park by THOMAS AIELLO Copyright © 2011 by The University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission of THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: The 1932 Negro Southern League 1

1 The Horror: Race Culture in the "Lynch Law Center of Louisiana 7

2 The Jazz Age and the Depression: The Different Trajectories of Monroe and Black Baseball in the 1920s 16

3 The Flood: Water, Race, and the Monarchs in Early 1932 25

4 The Monarchs and the Major Leagues: The State of Black Baseball in 1932 47

5 Spring Training: The Monarchs, the Crawfords, and the Negro Southern League 59

6 The First Half: April-July 1932 66

7 The Southern against the South: The First-Half Pennant Controversy 95

8 The Second Half: July-August 1932 109

9 The World Series: September-October 1932 124

10 After September: The Season, the Monarchs, and Monroe in the Popular and Historical Mind 134

Conclusion: "We Have Yet to Find a Moses" 145

Appendix 1 1932 Monroe Monarchs Schedule and Results 149

Appendix 2 Timeline of 1932 Player/Personnel Acquisitions 156

Appendix 3 Monroe Monarchs Roster Breakdown and Comparison 157

Appendix 4 Statistical Analysis of the Available Data for the 1932 Monroe Monarchs 162

Notes 177

Bibliographic Essay 225

Index 235

Illustrations follow page 34

Tables follow page 80

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