Kansas City has a number of museums that one simply cannot find in any other city. Aside from the National WWI Museum, and The Steamboat Arabia Museum, my top pick that I always recommend to people visiting is The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. I’m not even the biggest baseball guy, and seeing some of the stuff in this museum is interesting simply due to the impact on sport and our country prior to The Civil Rights Movement. A lot of people likely don’t know how much Kansas City almost single-handedly shaped the future of professional baseball, and a spot like this chronicling the rise and significance of teams such as the Kansas City Monarchs is something that needed to be told. The museum sits in a gorgeous building that also houses the American Jazz Museum, which I have not yet visited. They used to do combination tickets, but I honestly have no idea if that’s still a thing or not.
Negro Leagues Baseball Museum; Kansas City, MO
I actually visited this museum twice in 2022, once for myself and a second time in order to fill out my son’s Jackson County Young Historian Passport, the subject of a later blog post I plan to do. Explaining things like racism to a young child that thankfully has not really had to deal with that topic is tough, but goes to show that we have come a long way as a society. Sure, there are still awful people that would love to see everyone divided and actively target people of color and other minorities, but they are slowly dying off now. This museum is good for people of all ages, and can teach anybody a lot.
The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM) was founded in 1990 by a group of former Negro League players, led by Buck O’Neil. Visitors to the museum can learn about the challenges and obstacles faced by African American baseball players during the era of segregation, as well as the incredible talent and skill that they displayed on the field. The museum also celebrates the achievements of individual players, including legends like Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Jackie Robinson. Here is some info about some of the most well-known players I just mentioned:
Buck O’Neil (1911-2006) was an American baseball player, coach, and manager who is best known for his contributions to the Negro Leagues. O’Neil was born in Florida and grew up in the segregated South, where he learned to play baseball on sandlots and in local leagues.In 1934, O’Neil began his professional baseball career with the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro American League. He played first base and outfield, and quickly became known for his talent and leadership on the field. O’Neil went on to play for several other teams, including the Kansas City Monarchs and the Chicago Cubs.
Leroy “Satchel” Paige (1906-1982) was an American baseball player who is widely considered one of the greatest pitchers of all time. Paige began his career in the Negro Leagues, where he played for several teams, including the Birmingham Black Barons, the Kansas City Monarchs, and the Pittsburgh Crawfords. Paige was known for his incredible pitching skills, including his blazing fastball, his unorthodox windup, and his ability to change speeds and throw a variety of pitches. He was also known for his showmanship and charisma on the field, and was a popular draw for fans.
Josh Gibson (1911-1947) was an American baseball player who is widely regarded as one of the greatest power hitters of all time. Gibson began his career in the Negro Leagues, where he played for several teams, including the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Homestead Grays. Gibson was known for his incredible strength and his ability to hit towering home runs, even in some of the biggest ballparks of his time. He was also a skilled defensive player, known for his strong arm and his ability to handle pitchers.
Jackie Robinson (1919-1972) was an American baseball player who became the first African American to play in Major League Baseball (MLB) in the modern era. Robinson began his career in the Negro Leagues, where he played for the Kansas City Monarchs and other teams.In 1947, Robinson was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers and became the first African American player in the MLB. Robinson faced intense racism and discrimination from fans, other players, and even his own teammates, but he persevered and became one of the most successful players in the league.
As always, I was sure to grab a book at the museum giftshop, and I figured that a book by the man that basically spearheaded the creation of the museum would be a solid choice, that is why I chose I Was Right On Time by Buck O’Neil.
“From Babe Ruth to Bo Jackson, from Cool Papa Bell to Lou Brock, Buck O’Neil has seen it all. As a first baseman and then manager of the legendary Kansas City Monarchs, O’Neil witnessed the heyday of the Negro leagues and their ultimate demise. In I Was Right on Time, he charmingly recalls his days as a ballplayer and as an African-American in a racially divided country. Whether he’s telling of his barnstorming days with the likes of Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson or the day in 1962 when he became the first African-American coach in the major leagues, O’Neil takes us on a trip not only through baseball’s past but through America’s as well.”
The NLBM is located in the historic 18th and Vine district of Kansas City, which was once a hub of African American culture and nightlife. While that is the case to a degree, the area has only recently become the subject of numerous revitalization projects and tourist havens. In addition to the exhibits, the museum hosts special events, educational programs, and traveling exhibits that promote the history and legacy of the Negro Leagues. When I was there, there was an exhibit by a painter Graig Kreindler called “Black Baseball In Living Color” that showcased hundreds of Negro league players on small paintings and baseballs. There’s a few pics in my slideshow above. The exhibit also has a book that I dod not buy, but is detailed HERE.
“Black Baseball was played on a segregated basis from the nineteenth century through the mid-twentieth century. In 2020, Major League Baseball recognized seven Negro Leagues (1920 – 1948) as major leagues. This book explores the events and eras that shaped Black Baseball from the nineteenth century through the twenty-first century illustrated with nearly 240 color portraits painted by renowned sports artist Graig Kreindler.”
Overall, this is a great museum and a real staple of both the humanities and sport in Kansas City. Anything involving racism can be tough, but being able to confront the past and move forward is always great. This museum does not concentrate on the bad things that came into being from segregated baseball (and it would have every right to, honestly), instead, it highlights how innovative the clubs were, how impressive the players were, and why the negro leagues ultimately changed the game for good. You can’t help but come out of the whole thing feeling as if you really learned something. I do wish that they would get a remastered version of their introductory documentary, which is narrated by James Earl Jones, because you can easily tell the age of the DVD or VHS tape they currently use endlessly for the last 25 years. That said, if that’s my only bad takeaway, they must be doing something right. If you are a baseball fan at all, you really have to see this.
The NLBM Wikipedia Page HERE
The NLBM Website HERE
For more content like this, check out my History Tour page HERE