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The relationship between African-Americans and Ivy League baseball is not as extensive as it is with some other sports, but the League has had a number of remarkable men who were connected to the Negro Leagues.

The history of the African-American in baseball did not begin with Jackie Robinson in 1947. The greatest sin in the history of professional sports -- the banishment of black athletes in major league baseball -- may have kept black players out of the headlines, but it didn't keep them from the national pastime.

And the relationship between African-Americans and Ivy League baseball is not as extensive as it is with some other sports, but the League has had a number of remarkable men who were connected to the game.

The link begins as early as 1870, but the information from the 19th century has proven to be sketchy. Example, there are those who insist that George F. Grant played baseball at Harvard, where he attended dental school in the early 1870s, which likely would have made him the first black college athlete. But there is no record of him on the Crimson varsity. Grant would later become a prominent dentist and inventor of the golf tee, which he patented in 1899.

In 1880, William Edward White, now thought to be the first major leaguer of African-American descent, played at Brown and -- for one game -- the Providence Grays. Despite scores of researchers scouring records, there is little information about his life after college.

In the 1880s and 1890s, at least five Ivy teams played against the Cuban Giants, the first professional African-American team. Based on Long Island and later Trenton, N.J., the Cuban Giants played against major league teams before the color line was set by the St. Louis Browns in 1887.

In 1897, Eugene M. Gregory suited up for the Harvard freshman team, thus becoming one of the first verified black ballplayers at the collegiate level.

But this story focuses on six important figures -- of whom much more is known than some of the original groundbreakers. The Ivy League thanks Larry Lester, who originally compiled a list of Negro Leaguers and their colleges. That list helped us identify and investigate the stories of these men. Also a special thanks to Karl Lindholm, the Dean of Advising at Middlebury College, who has been a prominent biographer of William Clarence Matthews.


For a man who attended school in a segregated one-room school in Virginia in the early days of the 20th century, Earl Brown blazed an impressive trail.

The son of a Baptist minister and a nurse, Brown's 1980 obituary in the New York Times called him 'a frequent maverick' and the label certainly seemed to fit.

Brown worked his way through Harvard as both a janitor and a waiter and made a name for himself as a lefthanded pitcher on the Crimson baseball team. In his senior season of 1924, he won four times, beating Seton Hall, Bates, Middlebury and Amherst. In the Amherst game, he struck out 12 batters and yielded six hits.

Harvard hosted the University of Georgia for a two-game swing that April and Brown, the team's best hurler, was not permitted to play against the Southern team, as was customary in the day.

But his playing days were not over, as he took his talents to the Negro Leagues that summer, pitching his first of several seasons for the New York Lincoln Giants, first facing the Bacharach Giants in July 1924.

Brown began teaching at Virginia Union University and Louisville Municipal College, teaching economics and government before turning to journalism.

He became a reporter and editor for Life Magazine and his first 'maverick' moment came in 1940 when he penned an unflattering portrayal of Joe Louis. Brown eventually became the managing editor of the The Amsterdam News, a leading black paper in Harlem.

He was there in 1947 when Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. Before Robinson played his first game, there was a movement afoot, championed even by Robinson himself, for black fans to show restrained support at Dodger games as to not antagonize the white spectators. In a noteworthy column, Brown wrote in opposition to the movement and historians would later call the efforts to restrain 'embarrassing.'

Brown's willingness to stand his ground made him a candidate for New York City Council. He was elected to the Council in 1949 and immediately picked up fights for better housing and better wages for African-Americans. He called for investigations of college sports gambling.

In 1958 he became a political opponent of Adam Clayton Powell for his Congressional seat and the race turned bitter and personal. Powell, as expected, won by a wide margin, but Brown continued to serve, finishing his career as chairman of New York City's Commission on Human Rights in the mid-1960s.

Brown was never far from his baseball roots and even once joked at a low point in his political career, "Well, I can always get a job with the Mets."

He was plagued by ill health for some time before his death in 1980 at the age of 77.


John Howard Johnson was one of the best basketball players of his day at Columbia University in the early 1920s, but his long-lasting impact in New York came as an Episcopalian minister in Harlem for seven decades.

Things didn't start out all that peacefully for Johnson at Columbia, as he was ejected from a 1919 game against Penn for fighting. But it became evident that he was one of the most skilled players in the Eastern Intercollegiate League.

Johnson scored half of Columbia's points in a 28-25 victory over Dartmouth in 1920. The next year he had 11 points in a 15-14 win over crosstown rival CCNY. He might have been able to play with the emerging Harlem Rens in his own backyard after college, but he had a higher calling.

Ordained in 1923, just two years out of college at Columbia, Johnson first worked as an assistant minister to his father before founding St. Martin's Parish on Lenox Avenue. By the late 1940s he had built St. Martin's, now at 122nd Street, into a congregation of more than 3,000.

Rev. Johnson was considered a devout integrationist and worked to build relationships within New York's diverse community. He even spoke against the notion of the 'black church,' acknowledging that his church was open to everyone.

So it was certainly of note that he was the commissioner of the Negro Leagues at the time Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

He had landed that appointment by becoming a community leader, even outside the church. His 'Don't Buy Where You Can't Work' campaign of the 1930s changed 125th Street in Harlem forever.

By 1935 Johnson was appointed as the first African-American to be a member of the Emergency Relief Bureau and four years later was selected as the first black police chaplain by New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia.

When he was selected to oversee the Negro National League, Johnson understood the challenges that were about to present themselves and was honest with the press about his feelings. When he suggested that the League would be unable to compete with organized baseball, he was criticized by some of the established black press for adopting a changing philosophy on how the league would best be served.

When his role with the Negro Leagues ended after the 1948 season, it was clear that the league's best days were passed and that the clock was ticking on the league's existence. Yet Johnson had continued to legitimize the league and its players by attempting to eliminate on-field violence and addressing fan behavior.

By 1966, his life's work -- St. Martin's Parish -- was declared a New York City landmark under Rev. David Johnson, one of three sons of Rev. Johnson.


William Clarence Matthews was a Jackie Robinson before his time, a highly educated man and superlative athlete who almost certainly would have been a star -- if he had been allowed to play. And even in the overtly racially hostile first decade of the 20th century a major league team wanted him, but couldn't convince other teams to let him play.

Matthews was born in Selma, Ala., in 1876. He attended Tuskegee Institute and became an athletic and academic star, becoming captain of the baseball team and graduating second in his class. Booker T. Washington saw great promise in Matthews and arranged to have him attend Phillips Andover Academy, where he also excelled. The Andover newspaper declared that Matthews led "the best (baseball team) we have ever had," and at graduation he was presented with a silver cup by fellow students in honor of his achievements.

At Harvard Matthews' athletic abilities became known on a national stage. He played varsity baseball all four years, beating out 140 candidates to do so. His freshman year was highlighted by him scoring the winning run against archrival Yale in front of 9,000 fans. He led his team in hitting for three consecutive seasons, capping his efforts with a fine .400 batting average his senior year.

There is no question that Matthews had the talent to be a major league baseball player. He consistently led the Harvard team in batting average, a team that produced two major leaguers during his time there. Harvard's second baseman Eddie Grant is an excellent case in point. Grant graduated in the same class as Matthews and immediately went to the majors, where he enjoyed a 10-year career as an infielder with four teams before tragically dying in World War I. Yet it was Matthews, not Grant, who the local newspaper labeled as "the best infielder Harvard ever had," and Harvard's "greatest big league prospect."

Matthews? talent was so compelling that one major league team attempted to sign him. Fellow Ivy alum Fred Tenney (Brown) was interested in him filling a gaping hole in the Boston Nationals infield, then being filled by a light-hitting (.211) Billy Raymer. On July 15, 1905, the Boston Traveler reported that "Captain Tenney has long been hunting for a lively second baseman ... and after following the career of (Matthews) while at Harvard...he decided that William C. was just the laddybuck he needed." The article goes on to opine that, since Matthews was a Harvard man "certainly none of the National League players will object to breaking bread with him."

Wrong. Four days later the Transcript reported that "hot-headed southerners are so roiled" by Matthews that they'll form an outlaw "Southern League" if Matthews plays. The Atlanta Journal weighed in, calling Matthews a "human chocolate drop," and asserting he "may be good enough for Harvard, ... but he isn't good enough for us." That pretty much killed the idea.

Matthews did play for one season in the Northern League, then went on to study law at Harvard and Boston University. He passed the bar in 1908 and practiced privately until 1912, when Theodore Roosevelt appointed him to the District Attorney's Office in Boston. After World War I Matthews became legal counsel to Marcus Garvey. In the 1924 Presidential election Matthews provided critical help to Calvin Coolidge's campaign, and he was rewarded with an appointment as Assistant U.S. Attorney General. He died in 1928.


There is no record of Ferdinand Q. Morton participating in athletics at Harvard University, but he played a key role in Negro League Baseball in the mid-1930s.

Born to former slaves in Macon, Miss., in 1881, the Morton family moved to Washington, D.C., and Ferdinand took advantage of educational opportunities, heading to Phillips Exeter Academy before enrolling at Harvard.

At Harvard, he made a name for himself as a debater, going against Yale as a sophomore. Morton did not earn his degree from Harvard, leaving in 1905. He attended law school at Boston University before moving to New York City in 1908.

It was there -- specifically in Harlem -- that he would spend the next 40 years rising through the city's power structure. By 1916 he was an assistant district attorney for New York County. Before leaving for the Civil Service Commission in 1922, he was chief of the indictment bureau.

At this time, at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, Morton was already one of the most important black political figures in the city, but he downplayed his role back in Cambridge.

In his 25th Anniversary Report to his class Morton wrote, "I haven't accomplished a great deal perhaps, but I have had something to do with winning for the Negro in New York City his civic and political rights and equality of opportunity. I have been able to do that largely by reason of my membership with the dominant political party here, and last year [1930] was able to nominate and elect the first two Negro judges ever to occupy the bench in this city."

Morton was chosen commissioner of the struggling Negro National League, at the time the only black league, in 1935. Morton also continued his position in the Democratic power structure of the city.

In 1936 Morton met with National League President Ford Frick and offered a proposal that, if accepted, would have both integrated Organized Baseball and provided a structure for African-American management and ownership, resolving a problem that confounds baseball to the current day.

His proposal was to fold the Negro Leagues into the minor league baseball. Teams would still be segregated, but play both African-American and white teams. Full integration would occur at some future time (perhaps after white owners got sick of seeing their teams get trounced by former Negro League teams).

Had Morton been successful we might have a much higher rate of African-American ownership and management of teams, as the Negro League teams entering Organized Baseball could have served as a base of ownership and a training ground for managers. Perhaps classic Negro League teams, such as the Kansas City Monarch and Homestead Grays, would still exist. Perhaps Branch Rickey -- and even Jackie Robinson -- might not be household names today.

Unfortunately Frick rejected the proposal and an historic opportunity was missed. Morton left after the 1937 season, but his career was far from over as he continued to hold his post with the Civil Service Commission, eventually being named its president by Mayor LaGuardia in 1946. Poor health caused him to retire in January 1948, and he passed away the following November.


Manuel Rivero had a brief career in the Negro Leagues, playing just a few games for the Cuban Stars in 1933, but his life at the heart of black baseball outlasted even the Negro Leagues themselves.

A versatile baseball player at Columbia University, Rivero played on the Lions' squad for three seasons. A black Cuban, he played third base, center field and pitched for the Lions during his career.

He had a storybook finish to his Lion baseball career, going two-for-four in an 8-3 win over Fordham in May of 1933. Nearly 5,000 fans gave the centerfielder a standing ovation in appreciation.

Rivero made a huge splash in Morningside Heights on Lou Little's acclaimed football teams as a starting halfback on a team that played before enormous crowds as well.

Following his days at Columbia, Rivero founded the Department of Health, Recreation and Physical Education at Lincoln University, a historically black school in Pennsylvania. Rivero, who served as the school's baseball coach for 39 years, also coached all of Lincoln's teams -- football, track, tennis and basketball.

He first joined the school in 1934 and retired as the department chair and athletic director in 1977. Five years later he was inducted into the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics Hall of Fame.

When Cornell's Brud Holland, a football All-American, was shamefully shut out from playing in the NFL in 1938 because of a silent 14-year ban on African-Americans, Rivero hired him as coach at Lincoln. Holland would eventually become a university president and the U.S. ambassador to Sweden.

The Lincoln Athletics Department has made its home in Manuel Rivero Hall since 1980. Rivero maintained his connection to Columbia University as well. Picked as his senior class's second-best athlete in spring of 1933, he starred on the Lion Alumni team with Sid Luckman seven years later as they beat the varsity 14-13. Rivero was also one of three original players for Little to attend the Hall of Fame coach's 25th anniversary dinner.

He also earned a master's in health and recreation from Columbia in 1938.

Born in Havana, Cuba, Rivero was survived by his wife, retired Lincoln University English Professor Grace Hughes Rivero, a son, Juan Rivero, of San Francisco, Calif., a daughter, Marita Rivero, of Boston, Mass., three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.


Chronicled in the black Philadelphia newspapers for his baseball exploits, Douglass Sheffey wound up playing Negro League ball for the Hilldale Club in Darby, Pa., after graduation from the Penn Dental School. And like so many other black players at the time, he probably had enough ability to play in the majors, but the outlet was unavailable to him.

Sheffey's story is perplexing. The fact that he was black never made it into the mainstream newspaper accounts of the day, which in itself was highly unusual. News items in the 1920s regularly pointed out ethnicities of anyone who was not white.

But even more confounding was that Sheffey was with the Penn team on a southern trip to Georgetown and the Naval Acadamy in late March of 1921. African-Americans -- including Harvard's William Clarence Matthews -- had played in a hostile climate at Georgetown before, but black athletes were not welcomed at the Naval Academy at that time. In fact, world record holder George Woodruff, a runner from Pitt, was unable to compete on the grounds in the 1930s.

In 1941, Harvard formally contacted President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in distress over African-American Lucian Alexis being unable to compete for the Crimson lacrosse team in a game at the Academy.

Some have suggested that Sheffey was 'passing' during his college days at Penn, but it would be peculiar that a man making efforts to pass would keep a secret while playing Negro League baseball and appearing in the black newspapers of the day.

Did Sheffey play for Hilldale because he was banned from major league baseball? The answer is unknown, but it was clear that he was the star of the pitching staff at Penn. And one pitcher who wasn't considered the ace -- classmate Walt Huntzinger -- went on to a career in the majors. Sheffey, who had attended Southern High in Philadelphia, graduated from the dental school in 1923.

But Sheffey's life had continuing conflicting reports. In his files at the Penn Archives, former classmates sent a note that said Sheffey 'moved to the coal region and became a white man' and likely changed his name. But even Penn historians remain skeptical, noting that Sheffey made a 1953 donation to Penn from Hempstead, N.Y., where he would indeed pass away in 1976.

— Brett Hoover & Stephen Eschenbach

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