Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Base Ball and the Fifteenth Amendment

Supposedly the three most important factors in successful real estate development are location, location and location.  While location, or at least access to suitable fields, was not the sole determining factor in starting and sustaining a pioneer era base ball club, securing such a site was mandatory.  It's not clear, for example, what would have happened to the Knickerbockers and other early New York clubs had they not "found" the promised land at Elysian Fields.  Conversely the failure to find a place to play contributed to the quick demise of the Pioneer and Excelsior Clubs of Jersey City after a promising start in 1855.  Other early Jersey City clubs also struggled to find fields, but ultimately one location "at the head of Erie Street" became a fixture for base ball through the early 1870's.   Located between Grove Street and Jersey Avenue in downtown Jersey City, the site became the home field of the Champion Club, the city's premier team of the period, but also hosted many other base ball matches as well as large scale community events.

Area in red is a modern view of the grounds "at the head of Erie Street."  Erie Street is on the left, Grove Street on the right and Jersey Avenue at the bottom.

The frequency of matches along with the downtown location meant there was never a shortage of bystanders and hangers-on.  Such was apparently the case on August 31, 1870 when some of the Champion Club plus two members of the Aetna Club arrived at the grounds to watch a match between two other clubs.  For some reason, however, there was no game going on and the vacant field on a warm summer day was too big a temptation to pass up.  Accordingly Myles McCartin and Hudson Clarke of the Aetnas, Ed Beakes of the Champions along with some "heelers of the Champions" including President Joseph Weltch, Edward Sturges, Samuel Stilsing and Sidney Barr decided to have some fun by playing a team "conscripted" from the onlookers "without respect to age or color" (emphasis mine).  The result claimed the Evening Journal was a "game extraordinary" as the Champion/Aetna group took on "a club of mixed races."  Most likely the black members (who as usual were not identified) were residents of the small black community located nearby on 6th Street.  The match lasted only an inning or so and was reportedly "muffin all around" so it's unlikely the black members came from one of the city's early black clubs.

Leon Abbett - forceful and articulate Democratic political leader from Jersey City, according to one historian - "In short, he was a racist."

This "match" is the earliest documented instance of blacks and whites in New Jersey playing base ball together.  Given its informal, unplanned nature, the isolated event would, in most years, have gone unnoticed and unreported.  1870, however, was not a typical year as New Jersey and the nation were about to enter the first election campaign in the wake of the ratification of the XVth  Amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing to blacks (at least theoretically) the right to vote.  Passed by Congress on February 26, 1869 the XVth amendment was considered for ratification by the states during the early part of 1870.  Perhaps surprisingly to us today, like the other two reconstruction amendments, the XVth wasn't popular with the Democratic party in New Jersey and elsewhere.  The political philosophy of 19th century Democrats was very different from today with a strong emphasis on states rights and a limited role for the Federal government, both reasonable positions of responsible people.  Unfortunately, these views were accompanied by blatant racial prejudice against blacks and fierce opposition to attempts to secure their rights, including the vote.

Evening Journal  - February 3, 1870

Equally unfortunately, for anyone favoring the XVth amendment, including New Jersey's black population, the state's decision on the amendment was in the unsympathetic hands of the Democratically controlled state legislature.  Secure in their numbers, Democratic leaders like Leon Abbett of Jersey City didn't hold back on their rhetoric, even questioning the role of "colored troops" in the recent war claiming "they [black troops] did not show bravery in a single instance."  Justifiably outraged, Zebina Pangborn, editor of the Evening Journal,  asked rhetorically if Abbett and other Democrats had ever heard of battles like "Port Hudson, Fort Wagner, Olustee or Petersburg."  Probably as he anticipated, Pangborn's pleas yielded little as a Democratic resolution rejecting the proposed amendment passed on a strict party vote as according to the Journal, New Jersey Democrats were once again "making a record of which their children will be ashamed."  Fortunately the fate of the amendment wasn't controlled by one recalcitrant legislature and the XVth amendment became the law of the land, including New Jersey, in February of 1870.

Zebina Pangborn - Editor of the Evening Journal 

As a result the "integrated" base ball event took place just as the state was gearing up for the first election with an enfranchised black population.  Even though Jersey City had a minuscule black population which was far too small to swing an election, the American Standard, the city's Democratic newspaper, was outraged by the inter-racial activity.  Claiming that "the result of the Fifteenth Amendment was never more practically illustrated," the paper lamented the  behavior of some of the city's "brightest," "respectable," and "it was always supposed, thoroughly Democratic young men."  The supposition was, in fact, inaccurate as at least three participants were active in the Republican party.   Ironically, Sid Barr, who the paper singled out for "hugging and embracing his 'colored brethren" with the result of "wiping out (in Jersey City at least) of the dividing line between the races," was actually a Democrat.  All in all, the paper found the event an "unlooked for degradation of the Champs [the Champion Club]" that "can only be pardoned by a long season of repentance."

Evening Journal - November 9, 1870 celebrating the election results

If the American Standard was worried about the impending election campaign, the paper had good reason as November saw the Republican party capture both houses of the stage legislature (and with it the power to elect the state's U.S. Senators) and the Congressional delegation.  Perhaps seeing the handwriting on the wall, Abbett declined to run, citing other responsibilities.  The Jersey City man was far from finished in politics, however, as he was elected governor twice, serving from 1884 to 1887 and then from 1890 to 1893.  For the moment, however, Panborn and Evening Journal enjoyed the results which if "wisely used will make New Jersey permanently a Republican state."  Panborn also continued to advocate for equality on the base ball field, again excoriating the National Association of Base Ball Players for its exclusion of black clubs.  It would take many years to reach any level of racial equality both in base ball and daily life, but it's nice to know that there were men like Panborn and those early New Jersey ball players who did the right thing when it was far from an easy and popular choice.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Black Barbers and Base Ball

Peter Lewis, one of Jersey City's black base ball pioneers mentioned in the last post, operated a barber shop primarily for a white clientele.  After finishing the post, I began reading the latest issue of Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game, edited by John Thorn and published by McFarland & Co.  Always a good read and now an expanded annual publication, this issue has two articles about Bud Fowler, the first African American professional black base ball player.  Of all the communities in the country, Fowler (real name John W. Jackson) improbably came from Cooperstown, New York and one article by village historian Hugh MacDougall discusses Fowler's life in that small village.

Bud Fowler as a member of the Keokuk, Iowa Club

Interestingly, Fowler, like Lewis, was a black barber serving white customers, but in a very different environment.  In fact, it would have been difficult for Fowler and Lewis to have lived in more different communities, but in 1860 urban Jersey City actually had a smaller percentage of black residents (1.1%) than rural Cooperstown (1.8%).  According to the article and some other sources, black barbers cutting white hair was not an isolated phenomena, but fairly common in both north and south.  As MacDougall notes for black men, it was a chance at a middle class life and status as a Knight of the Razor, an "almost medieval guild - in 19th century African American culture."

One of many ads in the Evening Journal of Jersey City for Peter Lewis' hair dressing saloon

Reading the article rang a vague bell regarding a February 20, 2013 post about Newark's black base ball pioneers which speculated that the C. Ophate listed in a well known 1862 Brooklyn Daily Eagle box score of a match between two black clubs was, in fact, Charles O'Fake of Newark, the son of Peter O'Fake.  The O'Fakes were a prominent middle class 19th century black family in Newark with Peter and his brother, John, highly regarded as musicians and music teachers.  Peter O'Fake, however, had another profession, like Fowler and Lewis he was a barber.  And similar to Cooperstown and Jersey City, Newark had a relatively small black population (1.8% of the total in 1860) so O'Fake's customer base had to be white.  To date there is no proof that Peter O'Fake played base ball or had anything to do with Newark's early black base ball clubs, but archival material for the O'Fakes survives at the New Jersey Historical Society and clearly needs to be studied.

1863 Newark City Directory listing for Peter and John O'Fake

The social and economic advantages of black barbering seem clear and well documented, but what, if any, relationship was there between black barbers and black base ball clubs.  At the very least listening to white customers talk about base ball was a way interested barbers could learn not just about the game, but also about the issues involved in forming a base ball club.  Reportedly black barbers were acceptable to whites because it was a master/servant relationship, not in any sense a relationship of equals.  It was, however, still a relationship and the captive audience aspect of a hair cut and/or shave (more frequent in those days) could have led to conversations that resulted in the "master" helping the "servant" start and operate a base ball club, help in the form of ideas, money, old uniforms as well as used bats and balls.

August 4, 1848 Newark Daily Advertiser ad sponsored by Newark barbers including Peter O'Fake, of the other 11 barbers at least five were black

This is all speculation and subject to further research and analysis, but one thing seems certain.  Regardless of whether Peter O'Fake had anything to do with base ball, his descendants caught the bug somewhere.  According to a 1926 article in the Newark Sunday Call, "young O'Fake" played for the  Active Club of Newark, a leading white club of the late 1860's and 1870's, perhaps the first New Jersey black to play for a primarily white club. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

In Search of New Jersey's Black Base Ball Pioneers

If scanning contemporary newspapers for information about early New Jersey base ball is like sailing through heavy fog in an uncharted sea of ink, the most difficult thing to find is the story of the state's black base ball pioneers.  Sightings in contemporary newspapers are maddeningly few, short and sporadic.  Take, for example, the 1855 Newark Daily Mercury article about a match between two "colored" (hereafter to be called black) clubs, which describes the earliest known instance of blacks organizing to play base ball in the United States.  It's an historic find, yet to date those few sentences are the only references found for the two clubs in 15 years of multiple Newark daily newspapers.  Equally frustrating are items like the one in the August 7, 1869 Daily Evening Times (Jersey City) asking "What has become of the Lincoln base ball club (colored) this season?" It's a hard question to answer since it's the sole reference I've found about the club.  And to make research about black base ball even more difficult, through 1868, not a single player is named.  It's almost enough to make one appreciate the box scores for white clubs listing only last names.

The first edition of the Evening Journal (today's Jersey Journal) May 2,1867

Recently, however, the veil lifted ever so slightly in a series of late 1860's newspaper references to black base ball clubs in Jersey City which facilitated a closer look at this hidden aspect of the state's base ball history.  The reports appeared in only one of the city's three daily newspapers, the Evening Journal and initially focused more on equal rights than base ball.  Founded in 1867, the paper, which continues today as the Jersey Journal, used its first editorial to proclaim its commitment to the "equality of all before the law." As a result it was only logical for the paper to take exception to the National Association of Base Ball Players' refusal to admit black clubs.  The Journal briefly mentioned the issue in a December 13, 1867 reference to the Oneida Base Ball Club, a black Jersey City club, not previously mentioned in Jersey City papersA few days later, the paper excoriated the National Association for a policy that while probably legal, was incompatible with any sense of fairness.

Evening Journal -December 13, 1867

While the paper's position had no impact at the national level, it led to more publicity for the Oneida Club beginning with an account of a July 1868 "scrub game" against the Oriental Club of neighboring Bergen, another black club.  In those strictly segregated times, finding other black clubs to play against was only one of unique challenges facing early black base ball teams.  Even more challenging was the problem of filling a roster from the extremely limited pool of potential players.  Statewide in 1860, New Jersey had a black population of over 25,000, out of a total state population of about 672,000, which according to historian Bill Gillette was "the highest proportion of blacks in any free state."  However contrary to what we might expect, the state's black population wasn't concentrated in large urban areas.  Newark had only about 1300 black residents in 1860 (total city population of 72,000), but far more than  Jersey City with just 335 black residents (total city population of 29,000) only 141 of whom were male.  

Area in red represents an 1867 black community in Jersey City bounded by 6th Street on the north, Monmouth Street on the east and Newark Avenue on the south and west

While there may have been 141 black males in Jersey City, the number of potential base ball players was obviously lower because of those who were either too young or too old.  Almost all of the men lived in the city's 3rd and 4th wards facilitating a closer look at this group.  In order to estimate the potential number of players for an 1867-68 club from the 1860 census every black resident under 10 or over 35 was eliminated which left 80 possibilities.  While this does not take into account population changes between 1860 and 1867, it demonstrates the limited numbers involved.  Further light on the subject is provided by Gopsill's 1867 directory for Jersey City and Hoboken which, while not a census, appears to list information about heads of households including race, occupation and address.  Going through this source revealed an even lower number of 45 black males, about half of whom lived on south 6th street in the city's 3rd ward.  Another 14 lived on nearby Newark Avenue and Monmouth Streets suggesting a small concentration of black residents in the area outlined in red on the above map.

Evening Journal - July 10, 1868

Within walking distance of this neighborhood were two of Jersey City's leading 19th century base ball grounds at Hamilton Park and at the head of  Erie Street so this black community didn't lack for opportunities to see games in person.  Easy access to playing fields apparently continues in the area as the modern map shows three base ball fields close by.  While the directory data certainly doesn't identify any of the residents of this little community as members of the Oneida Club, it is reasonable to believe the members of the Oneida and any other black clubs worked at similar occupations.  As might be expected most held jobs at the lower end of the economic spectrum although there was one jeweler.  Much more common were laborers, boatmen, coachmen, porters and waiters which is different from the city's white clubs who were primarily skilled workers or worked at some form of a white collar job.  In addition to not paying well, these jobs would seem to have offered limited flexibility in working hours thereby complicating the scheduling of matches and practices.

While nothing thus far has identified any of Jersey City's black base ball players, the July 10, 1868 Journal article about the the previously mentioned "scrub match" names two players, even providing first names or initials for Ben Cisco and P.P. Lewis.  Given the extremely limited number of black males in Jersey City at the time, it isn't difficult (or surprising) to find both men as residents of the 6th street community with Cisco, a coachman living at 327 6th street and Lewis, full name, Peter P. Lewis, a barber living nearby at 360.  Little additional information has been found about Cisco, but Lewis was without question a prominent member and leader of the city's small black community.  Ads for his hair dressing saloon (special attention paid to children) appeared regularly in the Evening Journal, suggesting the financial wherewithal to pay for advertising in a paper supportive of the black community.  Lewis' customer base had to be predominantly white as he would have gone out of business pretty quickly if his clientele was limited to the black community, even if all of the 335 listed on the 1860 census were his customers.  It's certainly not unreasonable to believe some of the growing number of Jersey City white base ball players were among his customers, giving Lewis the ability to learn about base ball both by watching it and hearing about it.  During the 1870's, Lewis was the president of the First District (colored) Republican Club, grand warden of a lodge and a leader of the Union Club (colored)

Evening Journal June 11, 1868

How involved Lewis was in base ball beyond playing for the Oneida Club is uncertain, but base ball was definitely taking root in Jersey City's black community.  In June of 1868 the Journal announced that George Gale, Isaac Walker and Robert McClean had been elected officers of a second black club, the Liberty Club.  The three ranged in age from 12 to 15 so this was clearly a junior club, perhaps one of the state's first junior black clubs.  Nothing further has been found about the Liberty, but in 1871, George Gale was elected Treasurer of the Keystone Club which later that year not only had a game account published in the Journal, but was also the lead base ball story complete with box score.  In spite of all the things working against them, blacks had established a base ball presence in New Jersey's second largest city.

Evening Journal  - September 30, 1871