Setting the Stage: Separate, but not Equal

Frank White

It’s interesting in life where our journey takes us — sometimes to places we’ve never been or had the slightest intention to be. Writing this book has been one of those journeys.

In an effort to share the stories of black baseball in Minnesota, in 2010 I curated an exhibit, called They Played for the Love of the Game, Adding to the Legacy of Minnesota Black Baseball, in partnership with Ramsey County Historical Society of Saint Paul. The exhibit was well received, and I was encouraged to continue collecting and sharing stories about these individuals — outstanding baseball players — that most people in Minnesota had never heard of.

Both the book and exhibit were born from my love of history and baseball, along with my childhood journey traveling with my father — an outstanding athlete and baseball player — in the 1950s. It wasn’t until 1987 that I found out he played with and against Negro League teams that barnstormed through Minneapolis and St. Paul. I had the opportunity to be the cameraman during an interview by Kwame McDonald with Buck O’Neil (a player and coach with the great Kansas City Monarchs and the first black coach in Major League Baseball) and my father Louis “Pud” White. Buck spoke of his time playing against my father and the Monarchs’ attempt to recruit him in 1946. It was new insights like this that provided the catalyst for me to take on the challenge of writing this book. 

The stories featured in They Played for the Love of the Game: Untold Stories of Black Baseball in Minnesota span from the mid-1800s, when enslaved blacks were first brought to Minnesota, through the era of segregated baseball in the North Star state during the first half of the twentieth century. The book discusses the man believed to be the first African American baseball player in Minnesota; the independent black teams that played and barnstormed the five-state area and Canada; original documents such as a 1920s scorebook from the Oxboro Heath Baseball Team of Bloomington, Minnesota; the trials and tribulations facing black athletes in a world of segregated baseball; and the unfortunate but true realities of Jim Crow segregation on the everyday lives of these exceptional athletes and their families.

This book would not have been possible without the generosity of many who shared their family histories. I was fortunate to interview former friends and teammates of my father’s, through which I was able to learn and document the stories of their fathers, brothers, uncles, grandfathers, and others, as well as incorporate photos and memorabilia that had never been published before. There is an immense sense of gratification knowing that these athletes — athletes who were denied the opportunity play the “Great American Pastime” — can now get the recognition they so rightly deserve. 

In writing this book, my goal was to honor the men who added to the great baseball tradition of Minnesota. I hope you enjoy this piece of history. 

To my father, his teammates, and his opponents, and To all of us, to have a better understanding of the untold story of players with skills to play the game of baseball at a higher level but who were denied the opportunity, simply because of who they were. Never given a chance to even tryout, to succeed or fail, they only had a desire to play and show their skills at the highest levels and to be recognized in the great game of baseball.

- Frank M. White