When the KKK Played Against an All-Black Baseball TeamRoundup
tags: racism, baseball, KKK, Ku Klux Klan, Sports History
John Florio is the co-author of "One Nation Under Baseball: How the 1960s Collided with the National Pastime," and "One Punch from the Promised Land: Leon Spinks, Michael Spinks, and the Myth of the Heavyweight Title"
Ouisie Shapiro is the co-author of "One Nation Under Baseball: How the 1960s Collided with the National Pastime," and "One Punch from the Promised Land: Leon Spinks, Michael Spinks, and the Myth of the Heavyweight Title"
On Sunday, June 21, 1925, on Ackerman Island, in the part of the Arkansas River that flows through Wichita, Kan., the unlikeliest of baseball games was played. On that day—two decades before the color barrier was broken in Major League Baseball, three decades before Brown v. Board of Education desegregated public schools, and nearly a hundred years before a Minneapolis police officer pinned his knee on George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes—the Ku Klux Klan swapped their white robes for baseball uniforms, took the field at Island Park Stadium, and squared off against the all-black Monrovians.
This was the golden age of baseball, the days of Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, and Ty Cobb. The sport, at the time, was ubiquitous. “I think there were probably about sixty organized teams in Wichita at that time playing in various leagues around town,” says Wichita resident and historian Bob Rives. “There were a lot of church teams and civic clubs. Just about any kind of institution with nine people had a baseball team.”
And so, in a city rigidly segregated by Jim Crow, where blacks and whites rarely mixed, the KKK and the Monrovians faced each other in a friendly game of baseball.
The Wichita Beacon, one of the city’s two white-owned newspapers, ran the headline, “Only Baseball is on Tap at Island Park: Klan and Colored Team to Mix on the Diamond Today.” According to the Beacon, “The colored boys are asking all their supporters to be on hand to watch the contest, which besides its peculiar attraction due to the wide differences of the two organizations, should be a well played amateur contest.” Tellingly, the Beacon followed its headline by warning that “strangle holds, razors, horsewhips, and other violent implements of argument will be barred.”
Although the 5000-seat Island Park offered interracial seating for this game, the sport itself was no more integrated than the black and white pieces on a chessboard. So why did such a game take place? For the Monrovians, the game was a payday. For the Klan, the answer is more duplicitous.
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