If his racial ancestry had been known at the time, White was legally black, an unintended play on words. We know he appears to have passed as white, never correcting the record as to his ancestry. Given the tenor of the times, this is hardly surprising.
The struggles of Organized Professional Baseball (OBP) were mirrored by the Negro Leagues. They sought to harness the same elements required to make a professional sports league successful. The burdens of race and economic disparity made it even more difficult. Unlike their white counterparts, African American teams often found a larger purse by traveling to the minor cities to play baseball, the barnstorming tours, in front of appreciative crowds. League play was often only forty percent of the total games played.
When baseball was in its infancy as an amateur sport, it was organized around clubs of men who shared a similar background, usually by profession, social status or the neighborhood in which they lived. Teams were often comprised of just 10 players.
We also need to recognize that slavery existed in the North, legally up until 1825, shortly before baseball began to find a foothold in a fashion we would recognize today. Unlike Southern plantation slavery, slavery in the North was not agrarian based.
Baseball is notorious for its Color Line, a practice of enforced segregation that while real and reflective of the sport of the late 19th Century, was actually applicable to only one league, the International League. Very limited exceptions permitting African American to play in Organized Professional Baseball (OPB) occurred until 1899 including within the International League.
Given popular resentment against Britain and cricket’s exclusionary practices, baseball became the team sport of choice for young men of the working and emerging middle class. As the 19th century progressed, playing baseball became part of the American identity and experience that immigrants wanting to assimilate embraced as a sign they had put their European roots behind them.
Before delving into BlackBall in depth and the Negro Leagues, in particular, it is important to have an understanding of why baseball arose and gained popularity in the middle of the 19th Century as consequence of England’s deforestation and quarrels over citizenship.
This quote and the questions it posed could equally apply to the integration of baseball by Jackie Robinson, the resultant demise of the Negro Leagues and the long path to Civil Rights. By 1947, when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and integrated Major League Baseball, I think we can say it marked “the end of the beginning”, a process that had begun in 1867, but continued in baseball and in society as a whole.
The Negro Leagues were not the beginning of BlackBall as I have defined it. Competition started much earlier, before the Civil War, at the amateur level.