Hearings and Business Meetings
November 15, 2005
SD-366 Energy Committee Hearing Room 02:30 PM
Mr. John Jordan "Buck" O'Neil
John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil
Chairman, The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum
United States Senate
Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks
November 15, 2005
Mr. Chairman, Senator Akaka, and other members of the Subcommittee on National Parks,
Thank you for the opportunity to testify this morning on behalf of more than 2600 baseball players who played in the Negro Leagues. We support a very important Resolution sponsored by Senator Talent, S. Con. Res. 60, which would designate the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, as America’s National Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
I am John Jordan O’Neil. Most people call me “Buck”. I am the grandson of a slave who was owned by the O’Neil family in Florida. Because of baseball, I was afforded the opportunity to travel the world and see the many faces of racism, some disguised and some not. During my 94 years I have learned a lot, but most importantly I have learned that love and education can heal all wounds.
As Chairman of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, I have made every effort to share with the world the contributions that Negro Leagues players made to our National Pastime and more importantly to society.
Because we were black and because it was the early 1900's, we were not allowed to play organized baseball with the white players. Newspaper accounts across the land verify that we played good ball, entertained crowds, fed our families and proudly lived our separate lives.
In early 1920, Andrew “Rube” Foster led a campaign for a Negro baseball league. At an historic two-day meeting at the Paseo YMCA in Kansas City, Missouri, Negro team owners formed the first Negro league, the Negro National League, which included 8 teams.
African-American players from all parts of the country were signed to contracts, paid salaries, and played a full season’s schedule, which culminated with playoffs and ultimately a champion. Success of this first league spurred the establishment of others including the Eastern Colored League in 1923, which provided the opportunity for the first Negro Leagues World Series in 1924 and later launched the famed East-West All-Star match that drew some 50,000 fans annually.
In the Negro Leagues we were known for playing an aggressive style of baseball that relied on the hit-and-run, squeeze plays, steals, double steals, taking the extra base and even hidden-ball tricks. The athletes (40% of whom were college educated), managers, and the businessmen behind the Leagues were all entrepreneurs who hustled, entertained and played for the love of the game. Negro Leaguers played the first night games under lights 5 years before the Major Leagues. They dressed and drove in style and were admired for rising above the challenges of the day and their impoverished start.
In 1896, the United States Supreme Court in Plessy vs. Ferguson, found that a Louisiana law mandating separate but equal accommodations for blacks and whites on intrastate railroads was constitutional. The era of “Jim Crow” laws had begun. As a result of this decision, blacks were systematically denied access to lodging, restaurants, schools, and even drinking fountains. As traveling ballplayers, the Negro Leaguers were often denied food and accommodations after we had entertained thousands of fans, both black and white, with our extraordinary skills and showmanship on the field.
One of the most powerful symbols of racism during this time of segregation was chicken wire. Simple chicken wire was stretched across the stands to separate the black fans from the whites at Major League games. Yet, during Negro League games blacks and whites sat side-by-side.
This is a history that has never been taught in our schools. The details of segregation have been neglected and even today some are difficult to believe. The pain was great and overcome with sheer determination on the part of African-Americans. The curriculum we teach at the Museum addresses these transgressions with a gentle explanation of a harsh time in our nation’s history.
As proud as we were when Jackie Robinson broke the color-barrier in 1942, we knew it was the beginning of the end for the Negro Leagues. As the best Negro Leaguers were recruited to the Major Leagues, attendance dropped in black ballparks as fans flocked to see Jackie, Willie Mays, Satchel Paige and other former Negro Leaguers play for their new integrated Major League teams. Success for these few players accomplished our goal of integrating baseball and paved the way for future generations of minority players to put their marks on America’s greatest game.
In 1990, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum effort began through a large scale, grass roots, civic and fundraising effort led by citizens and baseball fans of greater Kansas City. In 1991 the Museum was opened and became the only public museum that exists for the exclusive purpose of interpreting the experiences of the players who played in the Negro Leagues from 1920 through 1960.
What we have learned these past 15 years is that people from all over the world are hungry to know more about the Negro Leagues and their players. Each year we host more than 60,000 visitors in our Kansas City museum from all 50 states and many foreign countries. These guests linger for hours as they find themselves transported to a distant time by our state-of–the-art exhibits which share the heartfelt story of the Negro Leagues and their players. In addition to our exhibits
at the Museum, we take our traveling exhibits to thousands of people each year.
The history we teach provides our students and visitors with information they might not otherwise learn. The artifacts we have collected help us tell the story. More importantly we continue to break down the barriers that existed during the times of segregation. Made up of proud, passionate, and intelligent professional athletes, Negro Leagues baseball helped to drive social change in a segregated America. Today the museum is a tool for improving race relations by sharing this overlooked and yet very important history.
Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, it is my sincere hope that you will support this resolution to designate the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, as America’s National Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. This designation is critical to our ability to preserve and display this important time in American history for all future generations to learn and enjoy.
I’d like to take this opportunity to extend my deepest thanks to Senator Talent for his passion toward and dedication to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today. I am happy to answer any questions you may have at this time.