Play Ball! at the Indiana State Library

If you have been to the Indiana State Museum’s current exhibits on Abraham Lincoln (With Malice Toward None and With Charity For All), then you know that the end of the Civil War was a mere baby step on the road to freedom for all men and women in America. Once African Americans were freed, their place as members of society was still undefined. America’s national past time, Baseball, plays an interesting role in the establishment of black society, prior to the Civil Rights movement. Thursday, April 8 the Indiana State Library presents Play Ball! Indiana and Negro League Baseball, two Indianapolis teams who rose to fame and made an impact. Don’t miss this education Indianapolis event Thursday at 5:30 pm for a new look into the history of Indianapolis sports.

Though the Civil War ended slavery, it did not end segregation. Between the end of the Great American Civil War and 1890, a number of major and minor league baseball teams had both white and black athletes on the field. But with the formation of the National Association of Base Ball Players in 1867, it was only a short while before African Americans were banned from the rosters of white teams. In the face of this outright prejudice, African American baseball players organized their own league of teams. These teams professionalized by the 1870s.

The first black professional team were the Babylon Black Panthers from Babylon, New York. When the Panthers were discovered by a white businessman, he renamed the team the Cuban Giants in order to attract more white fans. As these teams began to find a foothold in the professional sports world, more and more were formed around the rest of the country. At the Indiana State Library’s Play Ball! Indiana and Negro League Baseball, learn about two Negro Baseball League teams in Indy: the Indianapolis Clowns and the Indianapolis ABC’s.

The Indianapolis Clowns were a dominant team in the 1950s, taking home four pennants in that decade alone. More than that, the Indianapolis Clowns debuted the talents of Henry “Hank” Aaron on their field in 1952, when he was only 18 years old. Although they were the most successful Indianapolis baseball team, they were far from the first.

The Indianapolis ABC’s, sponsored by the American Brewing Company, became a well known team in 1915. They moved to the Circle City from Birmingham, Alabama in 1914. Two years later, they took home the “colored World Championship” in 1916. The Indianapolis ABC’s lay claim to original membership in the Negro National League, which formed in 1920. Just as Indianapolis is a sports mecca today, in 1920 the capitol city of Indiana played host to the Negro National League’s first contest.

Sadly, however, the Indianapolis ABC’s began to fall apart following the death of the team’s manager, Charles I. Taylor, in 1922. By 1924, they were forced to withdraw from the league. Though they would go on to compete again in 1931 and 1932 and then once more in 1938 and 1939, the Indianapolis ABC’s reached its pinnacle long before.

Truthfully, the entire Negro National League suffered through the 1930s (as did the entire United States during the Great Depression). Many teams returned to barnstorming, rather than maintaining professional affiliation. The Ethopian Clowns, originally of Miami, were known for their comic behavior before their talent on the baseball diamond. But with the establishment of the Negro American League in the 1940s, the Clowns cleaned up their act to become a part of something larger in 1943. Though the team was located in Cincinnati, it claimed by Cincinnati and Indianapolis as home. By 1946, the team moved to Indianapolis full time. The rest is, as they say, “history.”

Don’t miss Indianapolis culture event that is FREE to all Indianapolis people. It is sure to change your understanding of Indianapolis as a sports town. After the session, stay in Indianapolis downtown for a bite to eat. Grab dinner and drinks at any of these great Indianapolis restaurants or Indianapolis bars. Stay tuned to Indianapolis News, Events and Information on Fun City for all the latest on fun things to do in Indianapolis. Get out in Indy and find some fun!

Play Ball! Indiana and Negro League Baseball
Thursday, April 8 at 5:30 pm

Indiana State Library
315 West Ohio Street
Indianapolis, IN 46202