The Souls of the Game Exhibit Will Celebrate Black Baseball and How It Shaped America

(COOPERSTOWN, NY) – The stories and impact of the Black baseball experience will be recognized and celebrated through The Souls of the Game: Voices of Black Baseball, the groundbreaking new exhibit opening in Spring of 2024 at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown.

From the decades-long history of Black baseball prior to the formation of the Negro Leagues, through the complexities of baseball’s re-integration, to the challenges that remain today, The Souls of the Game will reveal the deep connections between baseball and Black America.  

The exhibit is part of the Hall of Fame’s Black Baseball Initiative that includes additional outreach programs, educational materials and virtual programming and is made possible by the Yawkey Foundation with additional support from Bill Janetschek in honor of his siblings Robert and Ann, the Anthony A. Yoseloff Foundation and the Bisignano Family. The new exhibit will be in the Yawkey Gallery.   

The Souls of the Game will share the stories of Black baseball through the voices of the men and women who lived, and still live, that history,” said Josh Rawitch, President of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. “The exhibit will provide an authentic, cohesive narrative of Black baseball history while celebrating baseball through the lens of Black culture and vice versa.”  

“We are grateful to the Yawkey Foundation, Bill Janetschek and his family, the Anthony A. Yoseloff Foundation and the Bisignano Family for their support of this exhibit, the Museum’s Black Baseball Initiative and its impactful educational outreach opportunities,” said Rawitch.  

“The Black Baseball Initiative is meaningful and timely, because there are important, complex, and nuanced stories that need to be told, especially from individuals with lived experiences. The Yawkey Foundation shares The Hall’s commitment to learning, understanding, and courageous conversations which stem from both the painful chapters of our nation’s history, and from the often hard-won victories by some of the greatest players and personalities in and around baseball,” said Maureen H. Bleday, CEO and Trustee of the Yawkey Foundation. “During their lifetimes, Tom Yawkey and Jean Yawkey demonstrated a love for the unique way that baseball had the power to bring together players, fans and communities, and our Trustees are certain that the Yawkeys would have invested in this critical Initiative if they were with us today, because these stories, facts, and conversations are just as critical and relevant today as they have ever been.”  

The Souls of the Game, a title that pays tribute to W.E.B. Du Bois’s seminal 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk, will explore the Black baseball experience of those African-American men, women and children who were and are an integral part of our National Pastime.  

“W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk was and remains one of the most important books by a Black person written in the 20th century,” said Dr. Gerald Early, Washington University professor and one of several Curatorial Consultants for the Hall of Fame’s ongoing Black Baseball Initiative. “One of the main messages of Du Bois’s book was that, in their status as free men and women, Black people needed to use all that was around them to invent, shape, and resurrect their own culture. By echoing Du Bois’s book title, this exhibit emphasizes that message about the meaning of baseball for Black Americans. Baseball was not merely a sport for Blacks. It was an element, a brick, in building a culture. Baseball was about Blacks creating themselves anew as a free people, as Americans of African descent.”  

Subtitled Voices of Black Baseball, the exhibit will highlight first-person accounts by the many individuals whose Black baseball experiences shaped them, their community, baseball and America at large. Featuring historically significant artifacts, important documents and engaging photographs, and utilizing audio, video, and interactive elements, the exhibit will tell a more inclusive story of baseball, shine a light on and correct misconceptions about Black baseball, and provide an authentic, cohesive narrative of African-American baseball history.  

The Souls of the Game will feature men and women telling the story of Black baseball in their own voices. Sections will cover stories of early Black baseball, the Negro Leagues era, the complexities of reintegration, Jackie Robinson, post-reintegration progress and retrogress, and calls for change in today’s game.  

As the nation celebrates the Juneteenth holiday, the Museum announced its upcoming exhibit title and the Black Baseball Initiative’s funding partners at an event on Monday at Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson, N.J., that featured Larry Doby Jr., the son of Hall of Famer Larry Doby, the first Black player in American League history; and Bob Janetschek, representing the Janetschek family.  

Doby, who called Paterson home, played baseball, football and ran track at Hinchliffe Stadium before his professional baseball career began with the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League in 1942.  

Today’s events at Hinchliffe Stadium included a special PLAY BALL youth baseball activation hosted by Major League Baseball, the MLB Black Employee Resource Group, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, and the New Jersey Jackals. Larry Doby’s Hall of Fame plaque was brought from Cooperstown for the Juneteenth event, which took place prior to the New Jersey Jackals vs. Empire State Greys Frontier League game at Hinchliffe Stadium, and will be on display for fans to view during the game.  

As a continuation of Monday’s events, on Tuesday, June 20, the Hall of Fame’s education team will offer students an interactive look at the Hall of Fame’s Black baseball education collection and learn about the importance of America’s Civil Rights through baseball prior to the 10:35 a.m. Jackals vs. Greys Education Day game at Hinchliffe Stadium.  

For more information about the Museum’s Black Baseball Initiative, click here.