Scott Smalley


Throughout the course of this research, the underlying theme has been the consideration of slavery in small things.  That is, how many personal, everyday objects were shaped by or were a product of slavery.  The reality is that slavery had effects that lingered on long after its abolition.   The Chatham-Kent Black Historical Museum has many artifacts. This project focuses on the 2002 replica baseball jersey of the Chatham-Kent Coloured All-Stars, a baseball team comprised entirely of black players that was in the Ontario Baseball Association for seven years, and who won its championship in 1934.  In 2001 and 2002 the Toronto Blue Jays commemorated the team by wearing their jersey for a game.  I will argue that the commemoration of historical experiences must be careful not to compartmentalize the people being commemorated, as this segregation is what they fought against.  I suggest that inequality cannot be effaced through symbolic gestures without understanding the deeper meanings behind that which is being commemorated.

The Good

Commemoration of the past is an opportunity for visibility and celebration.  For modern audiences who believe themselves removed from a period of inequality, commemoration represents the effacing of inequality through symbolic gesture of inclusion.  One example is the comic book depicting the final game of the 1934 OBA Championship written by author and cartoonist Scott Chantler, a white man, in 2019. Chandler’s work is part of the digital history project on “Boomer” Harding and the Chatham Coloured All-Stars. [1]  Early on in the comic he includes themes of racism to add more context to the story, so that readers gain a deeper understanding of race relations within the sport and its fandom at the time.  The comic could be interpreted as celebration of humanity and the effacing of race hierarchies by an author  who is passionate about telling the story of victory of an all-black team in the face of racial adversity.

The 2001 and 2002 commemoration of the Coloured All-Stars’ jersey is also part of a larger celebration and commemoration of the Negro Leagues[2] of the early 20th century, which existed in advance of the integration of Major League Baseball.  In 2001, the Chatham Coloured All-Stars jersey was worn at Shea stadium when the Blue Jays faced the New York Mets. The Mets, for their part, wore jerseys commemorating their local Negro League team.  While it is unclear whether Major League Baseball sought to celebrate the Negro Leagues’ contribution to baseball, the contribution of black players to baseball, or both. This symbolic gesture reminds baseball fans of players who came before and who paved the way for a more equal present.

However, the actual historical experience of black players was one of struggle. Black men who wished to transcend the race barrier in baseball did so by scoring higher than any other players.  Baseball is not a democracy, and if players wished to break into baseball’s highest levels, they had to fight for it.  Take Jackie Robinson’s career statistics: he had a career batting average of .311, which is quite good, and an above-average on-base percentage of .409.[3]  He was good enough to make it to Major League Baseball in 1947, and break a colour barrier that had been in place since the 1883-89 career of  baseball’s first black player, revered catcher Moses “Fleetwood” Walker.  Whites were forced to accept the accomplishments and integration of blacks if it was to the advantage of the team as a whole.[4]

Sports also provided economic opportunities for Walker and others. In Chatham, the 1934 Championship title meant that All-Stars such as Wilfred “Boomer” Harding was able to find better work, because  his on-field performance made him and his teammates local celebrities.[5]  These rewards, were hard-won, as players also faced racial discrimination in hotels and restaurants as they traveled  around to the games.[6]

The Bad

            When it comes to commemoration, it’s important to understand what we’re celebrating, and to be sensitive to it.  It seems logical to think that Major League Baseball (MLB) wanted to celebrate the Negro Leagues, or Negro League players who didn’t make it to MLB but were nonetheless contributors to the history of the sport.  Teams across the league commemorated their local Negro League teams by wearing their jerseys, so they were paying tribute to either one or the other.  What’s interesting then, is that the Chatham Coloured All-Stars were in the Ontario Baseball Association.  They were never a Negro League team.  They never played a major league “alternative” to MLB in the Negro Leagues, they played what amounted to minor-league baseball in what could be considered an integrated league by virtue of their existence within it.  Could the commemoration of the Chatham Coloured All-Stars, bunched together with the Negro Leagues, be considered a lapse of judgement, insensitivity, or unintentional racism?  Did the Blue Jays just select the All-Stars’ jersey to wear because it was the closest thing to a Negro Leagues team that Canada had, and if so, was the choice appropriate?

It’s great that MLB pays tribute to the black players who didn’t have access to the league of yesteryear, but only it representation has significantly changed since then.  Black representation in baseball is still a point of contention.  Former Baltimore Oriole Adam Jones in 2016 made headlines when he opined that only 8% of current MLB players were black and suggested that baseball is still a “white man’s sport.”[7]  While basketball is more inclusive as the  sport of choice among black inner-city youngsters due to the minimum  space and equipment needed (a ball and a hoop), and the self-teaching potential of the game,[8] this doesn’t explain the lack of representation in baseball  from blacks living in rural settings.  Further, it doesn’t explain why Native Americans or Cubans faced lower barriers to entry than did American blacks in the early 20th century.  It was widely accepted that Cubans and Natives were seen as “white enough” to play, while black players were excluded.[9]  Black players would sometimes pretend to be Cuban, as whites could label them as “foreign”, unconnected to domestic race problems, and therefore would see them as “acceptable” athletes.[10]  Mulatto players like Fleetwood Walker might face lower barriers to access to the game due to his “whiteness”, but his status as a mulatto reminds us that someone had breached a racial gap in a most intimate– way.[11]  If Major League Baseball wishes to pay tribute to those who were denied  access to the game at the its highest level, perhaps it should first look at its current practices before effacing an inequality that remains a deep stain.  MLB cannot simply celebrate the Chatham Coloured All-Stars simply because they were black, and that Canada lacked a Negro League team.  It is important when commemorating a people who have been marginalized that we don’t unwittingly make gross generalizations or categorizations ourselves.

The Ugly

This section really isn’t about the “ugly”, insofar as we have a chance to make pretty something that could be ugly.  In other words, it’s up to us to do our best to interpret the best of intentions.  The Blue Jays and MLB clearly wanted to pay its respects to a generation of athletes that never had their chance (comeuppance is negative) due to racial segregation.  the celebration of blacks in baseball, whether in commemoration in 2001 and 2002 or in 1934 when the All-Stars won the championship reminds us that  race barriers in sport can be removed in order to win.   Conversations emerge, times change, and the distillation of experience into commemoration must be sensitive to not further compartmentalize those who are being celebrated. t.  The effacing of inequality through symbolic gesture depends on us understanding deeper meaning, and that we don’t allow ourselves to be hypocritical in the face of contemporary racial challenges.


“Big-League Honour for Chatham Team.” The Globe and Mail, April 12, 2018.

“Bits about the Stars.” Welland Port-Colborne Tribune. September 25, 1934.

Breaking the Colour Barrier: Wilfred “Boomer” Harding & the Chatham Coloured All-Stars.

Dubroff, Rich, Matt Weyrich, and Rachel Hopmayer. “Jones Will Use His Forum to Speak Out.” NBC Sports Washington. Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic LP, September 13, 2016.

Laliberte, David J. “Foul Lines: Teaching Race in Jim Crow America through Baseball History.” The History Teacher 46, no. 3 (2013): 329-53.

Matheny, Timothy Michael (1989).  Heading for Home: Moses Fleetwood Walker’s Encounter with Racism in America (Thesis).  Retrieved from Oberlin College Archives, Oberlin OH.

“MLB Stats, Scores, History, & Records.” Baseball Reference. Sports Reference LLC. Accessed December 3, 2019.

Shreve, Ellwood. “Sharing 1934 Chatham Coloured All-Stars Story with New Generation.” Chatham Daily News, April 29, 2019.

“Stars That Shine.” Chatham Daily News. September 27, 1934.

“Where Have You Gone, Jackie Robinson? In College Baseball the Diamonds Are Almost All White.” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, no. 32 (2001): 50-52. doi:10.2307/2678767.

Zang, David W. Fleet Walkers Divided Heart: The Life of Baseballs First Black Major Leaguer. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 1995.

[1] Breaking the Colour Barrier: Wilfred “Boomer” Harding & the Chatham Coloured All-Stars ; Ellwood Shreve, “Sharing 1934 Chatham Coloured All-Stars Story with New Generation.” Chatham Daily News, April 29, 2019.

[2] Canadian Press. “Big-League Honour for Chatham Team.” The Globe and Mail, April 12, 2018.

[3] “MLB Stats, Scores, History, & Records.” Baseball Reference.  Sport Reference LLC.

[4] Timothy Michael Matheny. Heading for Home: Moses Fleetwood Walker’s Encounter with Racism in America (Thesis). Oberlin College Archives, 1989. 25

[5] Ellwood Shreve, “New Generation.”

[6] Ibid.

[7] Rich Dubroff, Matt Weyrich and Rachel Hopmayer. “Jones will Use His Platform to Speak Out.” NBC Sports Washington. Comcast Sports-Net Mid-Atlantic LP. September 13, 2016.

[8] “Where have you gone, Jackie Robinson? In College Baseball the Diamonds are almost all white.”  The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education no. 32 (2001), 52.

[9] David J. Laliberte. “Foul Lines: Teaching Race in Jim Crow America through Baseball History.” The History Teacher 46, no. 3 (2013), 331.

[10] Ibid., 338.

[11] David W. Zang, “Fleet Walker’s Divided Heart: The Life of Baseball’s First Black Major Leaguer.” University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NB (1995), 2.