Commemorative coins help tell story of segregated baseball

In 2020, a year pockmarked by racial tensions and hyper-partisanship, 77 U.S. Senators and 300 U.S. Representatives added their names to an initiative to commemorate Negro Leagues Baseball on the centennial of its founding. This rare display of Congressional bi-partisanship resulted in the Negro Leagues Baseball Centennial Commemorative Coin Act, which authorized the minting of commemorative coins, the sale of which will support the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo. 

At a ceremony hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, the U.S. Mint unveiled the $5 gold, $1 silver, and 50 cent clad coins, which help tell the story of African American resiliency in baseball in segregated America.

The Negro National League was formed in 1920 to give African American baseball players, banned from the major leagues, an opportunity to play baseball at a professional level. Additional leagues formed in the East and South and the Negro Leagues continued to operate until 1960. Throughout their 40-year history, the Negro Leagues provided a playing field for more than 2,600 African American and Hispanic baseball players to showcase their world-class baseball abilities. 

“The story of the Negro Leagues is an incredibly important story to tell,” said John Sherman, chair, CEO and majority owner of the Kansas City Royals. “While it’s about baseball on one hand, it transcends baseball. It transcends all of sports. When I walk through the museum, I think about the courage and the risk these people took because they just wanted an opportunity to play baseball. We were denying them the opportunity to do that at the highest level.”

Jackie Robinson, who played for the Negro Leagues, broke the color barrier in 1947 by joining the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Negro Leagues produced other Major League stars, including Leroy “Satchel” Paige, Larry Doby, Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Ernie Banks and Roy Campanella.

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum was formed in a one-room office in Kansas City in 1990, where John “Buck” O’Neil (player and manager with the Kansas City Monarchs) and other Negro League alumns took turns paying the rent, explained Museum President Bob Kendrick, “because they believed this story needed to be told.”

“They made this incredible history; their legacies deserve to live on. That is why this museum is so important,” Kendrick said.

“This is more than just a baseball museum, it’s more than just a history museum; this is indeed a social justice and civil rights museum,” Kendrick added. 

Celebrating the unveiling of Negro Leagues commemorative coins on April 25 are, from left: U.S. Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver, II; Kansas City Mayor Quenton Lewis, Ashley Reid, U.S. Mint; Bob Kendrick, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum; John Sherman, Kansas City Royals, and Esther George, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. Photo by Gary Barber.

“We claim it as our own,” said Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City President Esther George of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. “We know the Negro Leagues played an important role in the cultural and economic landscape of Negro League cities around the country, where baseball games were the center of a thriving African American community.”

George said the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank will place the coins on display in its Money Museum and will create educational tools around them to teach children about the Leagues and about segregated America.

“First and foremost, our children look at segregation through a very simple lens, and say: ‘That was dumb.’” Kendrick said. “And they’re right. It was indeed dumb. But it’s also the way our country was.

“It’s so important that we allow our children to look back in time if they are to appreciate how far we’ve come,” Kendrick added.

There have been 850,000 commemorative coins minted under this Act. Sale prices include surcharges of $35 for each $5 gold coin, $10 for each silver dollar, and $5 for each clad half dollar. Once the U.S. Treasury recoups expenses for designing and minting the coins, the proceeds from sales will be distributed to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. 

Madison, Wis.-based First Business Bank will manage any assets generated through the program. There is a potential for $6 million to be raised for the museum through the commemorative coin program. Rob Barker, First Business Bank’s Kansas City Metro market president, called the museum an important piece of American history. “The legacy and history maintained by the NLBM is very important to preserve and we are honored to help promote this program to benefit their efforts and ensure their financial wellness in the years to come,” Barker said.