EXCERPT: The Integration of the Pacific Coast League

The following is an excerpt from The Integration of the Pacific Coast League: Race and Baseball on the West Coast (June 2018) by Amy Essington. 

 

From Chapter 3: John Ritchey Integrates the San Diego Padres, 1948

While California and Oregon delayed ratifying the Fifteenth Amendment, which enfranchised former slaves, Washingtonians held a different opinion. On March 26, 1870, the Olympia Commercial Age stated that the amendment “does not particularly affect us in this territory, as the colored folks have been voters among us for sometime already.”15 Oregon and Washington, which began as one territory, did not agree on issues of race as states. The diverging opinions are another example of how the states did not have a common practice of segregation in the nineteenth century.

During the twentieth century these beliefs would become a fluid, and frequently invisible, system of racism applied through legal and social means throughout the Pacific Coast states.16 The 1910s and early 1920s included race riots and protests. During this period restrictive racial codes became law, supported by real estate organizations such as the National Association of Real Estate Boards.17 In addition to restriction of home ownership, blacks faced racism in the day-to-day practices of business in California; segregation of public spaces demonstrated the racial biases of the state. In the summer of 1912 a black Los Angelina wrote a letter to the Crisis, the newsletter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, in which she illustrated the segregation she faced regularly: “We suffer almost anything (except lynching) right here in the beautiful land of sunshine. Civil privileges are unknown. You can’t bathe at the beaches, eat in any first-class place, nor will the street car and sight-seeing companies sell us tickets if they can possibly help it. I am speaking from experience.”18

African Americans in the West had to negotiate a path between what the law stated and social reality. The town in which John Ritchey grew up was no exception. In 1934 in San Diego blacks began moving into previously all-white residential areas in the southeastern part of the city.19 The geographical location did not overturn other discriminatory practices. Blacks could enter and sit in a local restaurant, but once inside employees either did not serve them or harassed them. A San Diegan said of the time, “California had a civil rights law, but nobody observed it. . . . I found out many people had filed suits against restaurants here, but nobody had ever won one.”20 The practices of the local business and the reality of people’s lives differed. Regardless of laws on the books, California could be as restrictive as other regions of the country that had a longer and more entrenched formal system of segregation.

Even though the rules of segregation in San Diego bent to allow him to play on integrated baseball teams in junior high and high school, John Ritchey faced rigid lines of segregation when he played outside of the region. He and fellow African American teammate Nelson Manuel experienced discrimination as part of the American Legion National Junior Baseball Tournament, a prestigious sporting event for high school athletes.21 Founded in 1925, the American Legion Baseball Program worked to instill American values in young boys. Ironically, it did just that. While they faced no discrimination while playing in California, Ritchey and Manuel would experience a strict and rigid system of segregation in the South.

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In August 1938 the two men traveled with their teammates to Charlotte to play in the semifinal series of the national tournament. The team from San Diego had already played across Southern California, in Northern California, and in Grand Forks, North Dakota. The team traveled by train, and they faced rigid travel problems, hotel restrictions, and teams that did not want to play against them because of their mixed-race roster.22 As the teams prepared for the series in Charlotte, the organizers denied the two black players the right to play in the semifinals or finals.23 The two sophomores must have been confused and angry when Coach Dewey “Mike” Morrow informed them of the league’s decision. Morrow decided to play without Ritchey and Manuel. The Post 6 team beat Detroit in the semifinals, but lost to Spartanburg, South Carolina, in the finals. How must the two excluded players have felt when they returned to San Diego as part of a team that had played the final series without them? Ritchey and Manuel had learned to negotiate the lines of discrimination in San Diego, because for well-liked, quality athletes,  those lines frequently bent and blurred. In the South of the 1930s, however, the rules could not be broken.

Two years later, in August 1940, the San Diego Post 6 team returned to the national tournament. From a initial field of twenty-three thousand teams, the competition came down to four teams.24 John Ritchey and Nelson Manuel, now seniors, again played with their teammates on the San Diego Post 6 team as it won each level of the tournament, from local games in San Diego to a regional championship in Arizona to the western title in St. Louis. They again reached the semifinals, which in 1940 were in Shelby, North Carolina. San Diego faced a team from the St. Louis Aubuchon-Dension Post. Expecting segregation to exclude Ritchey and Manuel, Coach Morrow expressed surprise when the tournament allowed him to play his entire team in the semifinals. Ritchey and Manuel played in the semifinal round, becoming the first African Americans ever to play whites in this southern tournament.25 Playing before three thousand fans in the first game of the series, San Diego beat St. Louis 5–4. In his column “Talking It Over,” San Diego Evening Tribune sports editor Tom Akers offered this view of that landmark game for fans back home: “No hint of objection was heard from any quarter. In fact, the spectators showed a generous, sportsmanlike spirit that was both gratifying and surprising. . . . It is related that each time the boys came to bat, the assembled thousands cheered lustily.”26

 

Notes

15. Taylor, In Search of the Racial Frontier, 122.

16. Some examples include McWilliams, Brothers under the Skin; De Graaf, “Negro
Migration to Los Angeles”; and Taylor, Forging of a Black Community and In Search of the Racial Frontier.

17. Jones-Correa, “Racial Restrictive Covenants,” 543.

18. McDonald, “Letterbox.”

19. Janet Sutter, “Women in the Midst of Things,” San Diego Union, March 26, 1985.

20. A. Dahleen Glanton, “Blacks Mark Role in Building Country,” San Diego Union,
February 2, 1987.

21. Swank, “Black Balled,” 10.

22. Tom Akers column, Ritchey Scrapbook.

23. “Ritchey and Manuel on Prep Team,” April 24, 1939, Ritchey Scrapbook.

24. Martin Payne, “Post Six Conceded Edge in Outfield for Coming Series,” Ritchey
Scrapbook.

25. Will Arey, “Negroes Aid in Local ‘9’s’ Late Rally,” Ritchey Scrapbook.

26. Tom Akers, “Talking It Over,” Ritchey Scrapbook.

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