Wendell Smith – The Voice of Black Americans in Sports

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Written by Tinaya Sallie

Smith was born on the 23rd of March 1914 in Detroit and his father at the time was employed as a chef for the automobile mogul, Henry Ford.  While attending school, he became an exceptional athlete. So much so that he became the first black man to star as an All-City baseball player and went on to become newspaper editor/baseball player at the Virginia State College which was a prominent black college throughout West Virginia.

After graduation in 1937, he began to work as a sports writer for a popular newspaper within the black community known the Pittsburg Courier. His work was found to be of such high quality that a year later, he was promoted to sports editor. During his capacity as editor he managed to cover a wide range of topics and teams including the Pittsburg Crawfords and the Homestead Grays. He applied to the Baseball Writers Association of America for membership but was turned down because the newspaper company he worked for was not white-owned, therefore he did possess the necessary credibility to receive membership.

Undaunted by this, he used the power of his post cast a light on the level of segregation that was prevalent in Major League Baseball, which took away the opportunity for some of the fans to see some of the country greatest players in action, who happened to be black. His first call to action was to approach a Boston Politian by the name Isadore Muchnick with a proposal to desegregate the two Boston teams being the Braves and the Red Sox, adding that such a move would lead to a sharp increase in attendance by black fans.

Muchnick ran with idea and threatened to hold back on support for Sunday matches unless black players were allowed to try-out for the teams. An agreement was reached and this made way for players such as Marvin William (Philadelphia Stars), Same Jethroe (Cleveland Buckeyes) and Jackie Robinson (Kansas City Monarchs). However they were nothing more than empty promises after the alleged voice of Eddie Collins, the Red Sox general manager was heard yelling to get the black n*****s off the field.

Still unperturbed by this, Smith continued to voice his opinions on the state of the game until he was heard by a few insiders which include Brooklyn Dodgers’ general manager and president, Branch Rickey. The two men were of the same view towards the situation and Rickey asked smith for assistance in finding the next great player to break into Major League Baseball and shatter the color barrier.

It was also made clear that the player sleeted had to be one that was excelling in the game, demonstrating leadership qualities on and off the field of play as well as possessing enough temperament to resist fighting back against the heap of racial slurs and actions that he would face. If you guessed Jackie Robinson as Wendell’s selection, then you are indeed correct.

He went on to add several award and accolades to his name during in later years and after his passing from cancer in 1972 at the age of 58. Enough cannot be said about this individual to explain what he accomplished. A legend in his own right.


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Tinaya Sallie

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