Events, New Stuff

Barnstorming Negro League baseball teams played in Biddeford-Saco

“The All League team went down to defeat last Sunday, which was no disgrace, for they were pitted against one of the best road teams that ever came into our midst in the Colored House of David.”

Biddeford Daily Journal – Monday, August 20, 1934
In honor of the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues, GBH released this from their documentary archive. To read more about this film, visit (https://www.wgbh.org/programs/2021/02/01/basic-black-looks-back-the-100th-anniversary-of-the-negro-baseball-league).

In the early 1930’s the barnstorming teams of the Negro baseball leagues made their way to the towns and cities of Maine, New Hampshire and up to Canada during the summer to play exhibition games against the best local players that could be put together in “all star” teams. Teams like the Brooklyn Cuban Giants, Colored House of David, Colored Giants, Pittsburgh Hoboes, and the Philadelphia Colored Giants came to Biddeford and Saco and wowed packed audiences. The barnstorming teams were probably as close as many of the working-class ball fans would ever get to watching a major league quality ball team in person.

(Biddeford Daily Journal – July 27, 1931)
(Biddeford Daily Journal – Aug. 18, 1933)

The newspaper sports writers swooned over the level of ball played by the Black teams from Boston and farther south. Team managers worked to pull together the best local players they could to convince the barnstormers it was worth their time to play games in the twin cities. From 1930-1934 there is record that teams came to Biddeford, Saco and Sanford to play exciting ball against the local best.

(Biddeford Daily Journal – Aug. 13, 1934)

However, at the end of the 1934 season in what was supposed to be the last two games of the New England championship series between the Colored House of David and the Boston Royal Giants, both scheduled games were scrapped after the Boston Royal Giants first had a transportation breakdown and then missed the second game. An exhibition game between the Colored House of David team, which was already in town, and a local all star team filled the schedule but was a huge letdown after all the excitement and anticipation.

(Biddeford Daily Journal – Sept. 10, 1934)
(Biddeford Daily Journal – Sept. 15, 1934)

On one hand, it is pretty likely that the other team, after suffering transportation problems, headed home as soon as they could to avoid worse problems. It was probably quite challenging to be a group of Black men on the road in 1930’s New England. Also, that same weekend there were huge textile mill strikes happening all over the U.S., and National Guard troops were actually called in to Biddeford and Lewiston to protect the mills. Elsewhere in New England, violence was erupting at the different textile mill cities – this kind of scene was also likely one the Black atheletes would decide to avoid, given the choice.

(Biddeford Daily Journal – Sept. 14, 1934)

Why did the barnstormers stop coming north after 1934? The whole country was suffering due to the Great Depression, and the Negro League teams were inactive for several years in the mid 30’s, due to the Depression. Soon after that, World War II would start up and further change sports even more, in greater ways.

To Learn More:

Hands down the ultimate resource to look up and research Negro League data is the Seamheads Negro Leagues Database, which is incredibly rich with many ways to search players and teams information.

The New England teams aren’t as visible in the larger story of the Negro Leagues, and it is hard to find the players and teams in the growing number of websites and publications. This 2006 article from the Baystate Banner is the most comprehensive piece I could find on the history of the New England leagues, which were the men who traveled up to places like Maine to play exhibition games with summer collegiate and working-men’s leagues.

You can also read more about the 100th Anniversary of the Negro Leagues, and the New England teams specifically, such as the Boston Royal Giants, here at the Boston Globe’s article “Centennial Celebration of the Negro Leagues another event lost to the pandemic”.

There is a wealth of information about baseball history, including the players of the Negro Leagues (and Black baseball players prior to 1920 as well) at the Baseball Hall of Fame Museum.

Several years ago, McArthur Library had the pleasure of welcoming Negro League enthusiast and collector Joe Caliro to give a talk about the leagues and display a portion of his amazing collections in Biddeford. You can read all about him at this wonderful profile, which appeared just last September 2020 in the Seacoast Online.

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