The African American Midwest has had a massive impact on Sports — and vice versa.
The region’s sports legends include Jesse Owens, the Cleveland native who won four gold medals and Adolph Hitler’s enmity at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, and Ohio native Simone Biles, who won her four gold medals at the 2016 Olympics and served as an advocate for justice for sexual abuse victims in the USA gymnastics scandal.
In 1955 in Indiana, Oscar Robinson and the Crispus Attucks School team became the first all-black squad in America to win a state high school championship.
Midwest baseball was a major force for racial integration decades before Jackie Robinson. The All Nations Baseball Club of Des Moines and Kansas City was the first multi-racial team of the 20th century, led by pitcher John Donaldson. In 1937, the legendary Satchel Paige and fellow Hall of Famer Hilton Smith won the semi-pro baseball championship for the Bismarck Churchills in North Dakota.
The Negro National Baseball League (NNL) was the Midwest’s most important contribution to American sports. A Midwestern institution top-to-bottom, the league had teams in Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Cincinnati. Formed in 1920 by Rube Foster and a handful of other men who owned black teams, the NNL was the most successful African American business association – not to mention sports organization – of the early 20th century, and a symbol of community pride.
The NNL also blazed a trail for gender integration of sports, when Toni Stone became the first African American woman to play in a male-dominated professional baseball league. Her performance on the Indianapolis Clowns and the Kansas City Monarchs earned her a posthumous induction into the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame.