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Diamond Mine: Segregation, Alabama, and the Making of the Players Who 'Saved Baseball'

Charles Klinetobe, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This project examines segregated black baseball in Birmingham as a deeply racialized and political space. Birmingham industrialists began to offer the game as part of a broader system of welfare capitalism around the time of the First World War. African Americans seized on the offered space and made it an expression of their own community. This project argues that these layered meanings were essential to the success of the game as it invested both the white and black communities in the black game. As the political space occupied by baseball began to change in the years during and after the Second World War because of the first limited federal civil rights enforcement actions, the integration of the Major Leagues, and the start of the Civil Rights Movement, it left little space in the white or black communities for segregated black baseball and the game withered. This project challenges the historiography of Birmingham’s black baseball culture by arguing that comparison to other American corporate welfare systems is not sufficient to understand the situation in Birmingham which sought to reduce black workers to a racially marked dependent labor caste. It instead points to the historiography of sports in empire, American and European, as a useful model to understand Birmingham’s black baseball culture. This project draws together a number of primary and secondary sources including the historiographies of the racialized system of labor in Birmingham, the city’s black baseball tradition, the New South, and of sport and empire. It also uses archival resources from the Birmingham (Alabama) Public Library, the Memphis (Tennessee) Public Library, and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Further research could sharpen the examination of Birmingham’s black baseball culture by offering a comparison to the city’s white baseball culture or to baseball in other corporate welfare systems around the country. Further research could also challenge the distinctiveness of Birmingham and question the extent to which similar structures existed in other Southern industrial cities such as Atlanta, Memphis, or Richmond.

Subject Area

American history

Recommended Citation

Klinetobe, Charles, "Diamond Mine: Segregation, Alabama, and the Making of the Players Who 'Saved Baseball'" (2018). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI10845997.