The Negro Leagues: a past and present Kansas City cultural icon

Picture of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum sign

Photo by KCtoday

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The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. What’s in a name? You may have seen mention of the NLBM in our newsletter recently — as the meeting place for KC’s Vision 2030 plan, and most recently with the Royals offering free admission during February, Black History Month.

The name of the museum speaks for itself, but there’s more to this cultural zenith than just baseball. Here’s a quick dive into its history, relevance, and recent news.

18th and Vine

The baseball museum is relatively young, but the 18th and Vine District has been a Black cultural hub since shortly after the Civil War. The 20-block area was one of four settlements for Black immigrants seeking a home, according to a KC development plan. It was fully annexed into KC in 1885.

By the 1920s, 75% of the population was Black. Redlining practices, encouraged by the federal government’s Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, restricted the Black population from moving south of 27th Street. It was during this time, in 1921, that the Lincoln Building (remember this for later) opened as a professional space + dance venue.

Baseball in America

After the Civil War, Black athletes began to join baseball teams. However, Jim Crow laws quickly removed these players from pro teams, so Black baseballers began looking for another way.

Black leaders met at Paseo YMCA in 1920 and established the Negro National League. The organization became so popular that teams joined from across the country and churches scheduled services around games. Jackie Robinson even played on the Kansas City Monarchs, later joining MLB Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 as the first Black player reintegrated into the league.

The museum established

Picture of Satchel Paige statue

Satchel Paige steps up to pitch. | Photo by KCtoday

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum eventually opened in 1991 in a one-room office space two blocks from where the League was founded. In 1994, the museum expanded to the Lincoln Building (see, we told you it would come back). Then, under KC baseball legend + chairman Buck O’Neil, the NLBM joined the American Jazz Museum and moved across the street to its current location — at 1616 E 18th St. — with 10,000 sqft of exhibit space.

In 2006, the federal government established the KC museum as “America’s National Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.”

Through all these changes, from Black resettlement to integration and celebration, the Negro Leagues has retained a common current of resilience, innovation, and cultural significance.

Recent news

  • The MLB designates the Negro Leagues as “Major League” in 2020.
  • T-Bones are renamed the Kansas City Monarchs in 2021 to honor the Negro Leagues’ past
  • Buck O’Neil is officially inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2022.
  • The US Mint’s new Negro Leagues commemorative coins — which will only be sold this year. The coins celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Negro National League’s founding.
  • KC’s 10-year Vision 2030 plan held at NLBM. It incorporates 18th and Vine as part of downtown’s collective goals.
  • The Royals will cover admission costs through February to honor Black History Month.
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