Historical Markers
African American Baseball in Philadelphia Historical Marker
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African American Baseball in Philadelphia

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
Belmont & Parkside Aves., Philadelphia

Dedication Date:
April 25, 1998

Behind the Marker

Hillsdale Daisies Team Picture
Hillsdale Daisies Team Picture
In the aftermath of the Civil War, Philadelphians both black and white began a romance with the game of baseball that grew stronger and stronger. Black Philadelphians started their own baseball teams in the late 1860s. The Excelsiors and Pythians, organized by best friends marker Octavius V. Catto and markerJacob White, provided black Philadelphians an opportunity to socialize and to test their athletic prowess against their counterparts in other East Coast cities.

In the decades that followed, black baseball thrived in Philadelphia, and with the organization of the Philadelphia Giants in 1902, Philadelphia received its first professional African-American team. Although segregation prevented African Americans from playing on white teams, the black professional teams' skill and showmanship made them popular opponents for the dozens of all-white industrial, semi-pro, and amateur teams that populated the city.

Semiprofessional baseball was enormously popular in Philadelphia during the early decades of the twentieth century. Every community, factory, and church had its own team, many of which played on diamonds and stadiums built by local companies throughout the city and surrounding region.
Philadelphia Stars Team photo
Philadelphia Stars Team photo

During the 1920s, African Americans in and near Philadelphia formed more than thirty teams, some of them corporate sponsored, and six of which played in the Colored Tri-State League. One of these, the Madison Stars, was sponsored by John T. Gibson, the African-American owner of the markerStandard Theater. The most popular and successful was Ed Bolden's Hilldale Club in Darby, one of the best Negro League teams of the 1920s. To draw large crowds, white clubs often booked Hilldale as an opponent. In 1923, Hilldale played 93 of its 149 games against white teams.

The Great Depression hit the city of Philadelphia hard and had a devastating impact on black baseball. In 1933, Ed Bolden teamed up with white booking agent Eddie Gottlieb to form the Philadelphia Stars, a new black professional team made up of a mix of local amateurs and professionals, some of whom had played for Bolden's Hilldale club. The Stars joined the Negro National League, organized by markerPittsburgh Crawfords owner Gus Greenlee, and, in 1934, proceeded to win the championship against the Chicago American Giants their first year in the league.
An early team photo of the Philadelphia Giants.
Philadelphia Giants team photo, circa 1908.

The Stars never won the championship again, but their victory did help to revive local interest in black amateur and semi-professional baseball, and the organization of new teams and leagues, including the Black Suburban League, which started in 1934. For more than a decade, the Stars played at a stadium the Pennsylvania Railroad had constructed in the early 1920s at 44th and Parkside in West Philadelphia for its YMCA team. After losing this home field in 1947, they took to the road and played some of their games at Shibe Park. Bolden continued with the team until his death in 1950. By then, however, the integration of Major League Baseball had doomed the Negro Leagues.

The Stars played their last games in 1952. As Philadelphia's black baseball teams faded into memory, however, they were not forgotten. In the summer of 2003, a statue memorializing the Negro Leagues was placed at the southwestern corner of Belmont and Parkside Avenues in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park near the site of the Stars' former playing field.
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