Rep. Cleaver Hits a Home Run with Negro Leagues Coin Bill
Last Saturday, Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-MO) announced that the United States House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill directing the Secretary of the Treasury to mint coins commemorating Negro League baseball's 100th anniversary. Introduced by Cleaver in July of last year, the Negro Leagues Baseball Centennial Commemorative Coin Act is projected to raise up to $6 million for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum located in Kansas City's historic 18th & Vine district.
"I'm overjoyed to see this legislation earn a thumbs up from all my colleagues in the House, and it makes me ecstatic just thinking about the millions of dollars this bill will raise for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum back home in Kansas City," Cleaver said. "This bill will help right some of the wrongs of our nation's past by honoring the players who never let prejudice or discrimination diminish their love for the game of baseball."
Barred from joining the rosters of major and minor league baseball teams due to the color of their skin, African American ball players began forming their own professional teams in the latter half of the 1800s. By the dawn of the 20th century, efforts to establish an all-Black professional baseball league were being led by Andrew "Rube" Foster, a former pitcher for two African American teams who went on to manage Chicago's Leland Giants in 1907. Hoping to form a "league of their own" in February of 1920, Foster brought together eight independent African American baseball teams at the Paseo YMCA, located just one block away from the grounds of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in a red-brick building now recognized as the Buck O'Neil Center. From this seminal meeting emerged the Negro National League, the first successful, well-organized professional Black baseball league to take off in the United States.
"Many of the athletes who played in the Negro Leagues never received the praise and recognition they deserved," said Cleaver. "The whole world knows the story of Jackie Robinson, but far fewer people know the extraordinary history and impact of the Negro Leagues."
The Negro National League lasted until 1931, thereby laying the groundwork for the next six African American baseball leagues that succeeded Foster's creation. At a time when Major League Baseball's race barrier was still fully intact, the Negro Leagues provided a playing field where more than 2,600 Black and Latino baseball players "forged a glorious history in the midst of an inglorious era of segregation," according to Cleaver's bill. Taking the field with a sense of fervor and enthusiasm unmatched in the majors, the Negro Leagues' players soon began attracting large crowds in cities all across the United States. Unlike the teams competing, however, the stands did not reflect the racial segregation that was still being upheld even after Brown v Board. Remarkably, in an age when John Lewis was brutalized for taking a seat at a Woolworth's lunch counter, when Rosa Parks was arrested for taking a seat on a Greyhound bus, and when James Meredith was shot for taking a seat at the University of Mississippi, the Negro Leagues managed to bring fans of all races together, sitting them side-by-side to appreciate the talents of world-class athletes. Representing far more than just a game, the Negro Leagues players went to bat against the country's racial caste system, pushing America ever closer toward the founding promise that all men are created equal. Moreover, the Negro Leagues pioneered "Night Baseball" five years before the segregated majors began playing evening games, boosted local economies in the cities where all-Black teams competed, and introduced important innovations to the game of baseball, including batting helmets and shin guards.
Notably, many of the brightest stars to earn their stripes in the Negro Leagues played right here in the heartland, donning the colors of the Kansas City Monarchs. Before pitching his first game for the Cleveland Indians, Leroy "Satchel" Paige took the mound as a Monarch. Before becoming the first Black coach in the majors and a scout for the Royals, Buck O'Neil manned first base as a Monarch. And before making history in 1947 for breaking baseball's longstanding color line with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Jackie Robinson fielded second base as a Monarch. Standing out as the longest-running franchise in the Negro Leagues, the Kansas City Monarchs epitomized the spirit of "triumph over adversity" to which Cleaver draws attention in his successful bill.
As the birthplace of the Negro National League and the home of the league's most celebrated team, Kansas City was the ideal location for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, which first opened its doors in 1990. Recognized by Congress in 2006 for being the only institution of its kind, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum preserves the history of the league, highlights its role in advancing racial progress, and promotes the values of tolerance, diversity and inclusion. The museum has welcomed over two million visitors since its inception and played a central part in the revitalization of 18th & Vine.
In preparation for the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Negro National League's founding, Cleaver introduced his bill to honor the Negro Leagues in July of 2019. By the time Cleaver's bill came up for a vote in the House of Representatives, it had earned an impressive 301 bipartisan cosponsors. The bill also garnered endorsements from the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, Robert Manfred, along with the Major League Baseball Players Organization. Finally, on Tuesday, September 22nd, Cleaver's coin bill received unanimous support in the House of Representatives, a strong testament to the lasting legacy of the Negro Leagues, the legends it produced, and their broad impact on American society.
News of the bill's passage in the House was announced last Saturday during a press conference at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Joining Cleaver at the press conference was Mr. Bob Kendrick, President of the museum since 2011.
"The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum "tip our cap' to Congressman Cleaver," said Kendrick, "for his tireless efforts in getting the required House of Representatives votes to move our dream of creating a commemorative U.S. Mint coin in recognition of the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the Negro Leagues another important step closer to becoming a reality."
Cleaver's bill must still be approved in the U.S. Senate before the Secretary of the Treasury begins minting coins in honor of the Negro Leagues' centennial anniversary, but lawmakers expect the bill to pass the Senate in the coming weeks. Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) are leading the bipartisan effort in the Senate.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that Cleaver's bill will raise up to $6 million for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum while not costing any taxpayer dollars, as all funding will come directly from the sales of coins to private citizens. Cleaver's bill directs the Secretary of the Treasury to mint $5 gold coins, $1 silver coins, and half-dollar clad coins. The commemorative coins are expected to hit the market in 2022.