The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City is one of America’s best museums. Baseball fans, of course will be in heaven. But anyone interested in American history – not just the history of race relations in the USA – should put the Negro Leagues Museum (NLBM) on their “must-see list.”
The NLBM is located in the very heart of the historic Jazz District of Kansas City. (Click here to read about my funny effort to find the corner of 12th Street and Vine, mentioned in the song Kansas City!) As you walk through the lovely 10,000 foot building you step back in time. The fascinating displays and artifacts are arranged chronologically. They begin with the earliest days of segregated baseball and culminate with Jackie Robinson breaking the MLB color barrier, which hastened the end of the Negro Leagues.
What makes the NLBM such an important history museum – as opposed to just a great baseball museum – is the conscious effort to weave the story of baseball segregation into the larger fabric of America’s civil rights story. Don’t expect to see a lot of batting statistics and pitching records. Instead, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum concentrates on telling a story. It is the story of when baseball – and America – were legally divided over questions of race. As Dr. Bob Kendrick, the President of the Museum, explained to me:
“Because of the work we’ve done over the last 25 years, our visitors come the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM) expecting to meet some pretty good baseball players. They leave not being disappointed. You meet some of the greatest baseball players to ever put on a uniform. But by the time you walk away from the experience, you leave with a greater appreciation of just how special this country is and an inspirational introduction to a precious piece of Americana that amazingly escaped the pages of American history books. For us, baseball is merely a premise for far more grandiose story and a powerful and compelling lesson in humanity.”
A Deeper Story Is Told At Negro Leagues Baseball Museum
As a Cubs fan, I was especially fascinated by the story of Chicago’s major role in the Negro Leagues. My (then) ten year old son, Zack, learned much about how segregated Chicago had been. Baseball thus opened up a larger discussion on how and why African American men were banned from playing Major League baseball. We discussed whether Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb would have had such impressive batting statistics if they’d had to bat against Bob Gibson or Lee Smith. More importantly, we discussed whether baseball’s integration led to a more general breaking down of segregation in American society.
My son loved the baseball nostalgia & memorabilia expertly displayed at the the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. But the larger questions about the way African Americans persevered in the face of great hardships inspired him to learn more. Give yourself at least two hours (three if you are a baseball buff) to wander slowly through the many and wonderful displays and exhibits. Take your time absorbing the important stories they have to tell. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is a national treasure. It reminds us of a time when the Field of Dreams was segregated. The Negro League Baseball Museum celebrates the legendary players, stadiums and heroic moments, of course. But it also tells a deeper, richer story of American history.
Visit Negro Leagues Baseball Museum
I hope you will visit the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. If you do, please leave a comment about your experience below! Click here for their official website, including hours, directions and special exhibitions. Follow them on Twitter: @NLBMPrez.