Wendell Smith and Jim Crow Florida
"Beneath the apparently tranquil surface of baseball there is a growing feeling of resentment among Negro major leaguers who still experience embarrassment, humiliation, and even indignities during spring training in the south. The Negro player who is accepted as a first class citizen in the regular season is tired of being a second class citizen in spring training."
--Wendell Smith, Chicago's American, January 23, 1961
More than a decade after Jackie Robinson made his Dodgers debut, life at baseball spring training camps in Florida still adhered to southern Jim Crow segregation. In cooperation with the NAACP, Wendell Smith, Chicago's American, and a few black newspapers officially launched a campaign in January 1961 to end spring training segregation. Black players had protested their treatment in Florida for years, but teams deferred to local custom and were slow to change. Only the Dodgers offered fully integrated Florida spring training by 1960.
During the Chicago's American campaign, Smith highlighted the voices of black baseball stars of the past and present, most notably Hank Aaron, Larry Doby, Elston Howard, Ernie Banks, and Minnie Minoso. The campaign met its first major success in March 1961 when then White Sox owner Bill Veeck cancelled hotel reservations once he discovered the hotel would not house black players. By the end of June, the Players’ Association endorsed the campaign. Despite the pressure, the governor of Florida refused to intervene and maintained that he had no legal authority to force private hotels to accept black guests.
In November, the Chicago White Sox purchased a Florida hotel for the sole purpose of integrating spring training lodging. Shortly thereafter, all Florida spring training sites desegregated, although some Florida towns were resistant to wider desegregation efforts.
A Sample From the Collection
Hard copies of Wendell Smith's newspaper articles on this topic can be found in the Hall of Fame's archive in Cooperstown, NY.
For more information about some of the individuals in this story, see the following links:
- Baseball-Reference Bullpen: Hank Aaron • Ernie Banks • Larry Doby • Elston Howard • Minnie Minoso • Branch Rickey • Jackie Robinson • Bill Veeck
- Baseball-Reference Statistics: Hank Aaron • Ernie Banks • Larry Doby • Elston Howard • Minnie Minoso • Branch Rickey (Manager) • Jackie Robinson
- SABR Baseball Biography Project: Hank Aaron • Larry Doby • Elston Howard • Minnie Minoso • Branch Rickey • Jackie Robinson • Bill Veeck
- Retrosheet: Hank Aaron • Ernie Banks • Larry Doby • Elston Howard • Minnie Minoso • Branch Rickey (Manager) • Jackie Robinson • Honoring Jackie Robinson