Friday, March 03, 2006

Say WHAT?!?

TAMPA, Fla. - Effa Manley became the first woman elected to the baseball Hall of Fame when the former Newark Eagles co-owner was among 17 people from the Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues chosen Monday by a special committee."Baseball Hall of Fame Elects First Woman" .

This was the headline that greeted me when I logged into AOL as I do everyday. As a woman who loves to see women break into territory previously unchartered by women [almost as much as I relish the occasions on which black people break into new arenas], I was immediately drawn to this article. My first thought when I saw this headline was that "there are other women in the Baseball Hall of Fame". I learned that I was correct, but Mrs. Manley has the distinction of having been the first woman elected by way of a special committee in a process similar to what the overwhelming majority of players inducted into the institution undergo. The women who were previously installed into the Baseball Hall of Fame [i.e. members of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL)] did not undergo an election process but were granted the honor under special consideration rules.

As I continued to read the article, my admiration for Mrs. Manley continued to grow and then:

**Manley was white, but married a black man and passed as a black woman, said Larry Lester, a baseball author and member of the voting committee.**

WHAT? Come again...passed as a black woman? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? DOES STUFF LIKE THIS REALLY HAPPEN? I was beside myself as images of movies like "Imitation of Life" in reverse, flashed before my eyes. In 41 years on the planet, I had never heard of a white person passing as black unless they were undercover doing research for projects such as "Black Like Me". Already developing a minor interest in the life of this woman who was considered extraordinary enough to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, my level of interest had suddenly morphed into outright facination.

What, I thought to myself, must her life have been like in a country as racially polarized as America [keep in mind, we're talking the 1940's and Jim Crow is in full effect]? Was it the desire to just blend in, assimilate, into the black community into which she had wed that drove her decision to "pass"? Was it fear for the safety of her black husband? According to the article, she was extremely civic minded and deeply committed to improving conditions for black athletes:

** She tried to organize the owners to build their own parks and have a balanced schedule and to really improve the lot of the Negro League players.

** She campaigned to get as much money as possible for these ballplayers, and rightfully so.

** Manley used baseball to advance civil rights causes with events such as an Anti-Lynching Day at the ballpark.

Was her dedication to improving the lot of negro ballplayers the reason for her decision to pass? Did life as a black woman allow her to accomplish more on behalf of black athletes? Was this decision based on the physical risks she faced as a white woman married to a black man promoting improved conditions for black athletes? Considering the climate of the American culture in which she lived, any combination of these theories could have compelled her decision.

I wonder what she thought of life as a black woman. Was it what she expected it would be or did she realize the shock of her life walking in our shoes? Were there times when she wanted to escape this self-imposed identity and if so, did she ever follow through on that impulse? FASCINATING!

My curiosity is definitely peaked, and my intention is to delve more deeply into the archives available in an attempt to discern more about this most unusual arrangement. Hopefully, I will be able to gather more insight into what the life of this unique individual was like, and eventually, considering all that she has been reported to have done for the Negro League athletes, I hope that I will find that in the end, she was happy and content.


Safa said...

Thank you so much for posting this story! You really do learn something new everyday. I think I'll look up more info on her!

DP said...

I think part of it was that she loved her husband, who was a black man. As they were "one" his causes...our causes...became HER causes. It's called true love and there ain't nothing wrong with that.

I am still outraged that Buck O'Neil didn't make it in.

LadyLee said...

Now that was something else... A white woman passing as a black woman? geez!

This was a good post... I heard a brief outtake of this story on the news...You make me want to look into her life more, too... I too have those same questions you posed in your post... Man, it would have been something else if she would have kept a diary during that time... oh the stories she could tell!