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Background Image Jackie Robinson statue at Wichita's McAdams Park surrounded by people.

Root, Root, Root for the Wichita Teams

Wichita’s Island Park ball field once hosted a game so strange that Kansans still talk about it nearly 100 years later. In 1925, the African American Wichita Monrovians baseball team played against the local Ku Klux Klan. To ensure there was no favoritism, the teams hired Catholic umpires. It was a bizarre match-up, to say the least.

Why did this game happen? The Monrovians were willing to play the KKK because they were a professional baseball team with a sizeable economic stake in the local African American population. They often funneled their earnings back into the community; any chance at new fans, Black or white, was worth considering.

Even more importantly, however, the Monrovians saw the game as a chance to demonstrate their skills in a way that could strike a subtle blow for equality both on and off the baseball diamond. But why would white supremacists willingly compete against an all-Black team when there was a chance they would lose? (Not a small chance, either: the Monrovians dominated the Colored Western League and were, by all accounts, a very good team.) 

The Wichita Monrovian story survives—and the question lingers for debate—because Wichita is at its heart a baseball city. From its earliest games played on Ackerman Island to this year’s opening of the new Riverfront Stadium, stories embedded with struggle and tenacity remain alive on the ballfields. 

Beginning this week, two projects supported by HK Humanities for All grants will explore this rich baseball heritage that continues to echo in today’s thrilling games. 

The Wichita Public Library’s Candid Conversations project, “Wichita’s Diverse History of Baseball,” will examine the city’s storied baseball history, from the Negro Leagues to the Mexican American teams and beyond. The library has partnered with The Kansas African American Museum, the Urban Professionals, and other local organizations to present a series of film discussions, presentations, and even an exhibition game—titled “Jim Crow Strikes Out!,” which will take place at the city’s historic McAdams Park.

Also supported by a Humanities for All grant, PBS Kansas will air an original documentary, “Kansas Baseball: Swinging for the Fences,” on KPTS Channel 8 on June 10 and 15 at 7 PM.  The documentary looks at the fascinating stories behind Kansas baseball and its historic and cultural significance to our communities. (For example, did you know that the first official minor league night game illuminated by electricity took place in Independence, Kansas, in 1930?)

But to return to the original story: why did the KKK members want to play the dominating Monrovians on the field? According to Only A Game, the Klan hoped the game would help to recruit members; by 1925 they were struggling to maintain a presence in Kansas. Ultimately, however, the Monrovians won the game, 10-8, and the Klan was officially booted from Kansas two years later, in 1927.

Upcoming Events

Many of the Wichita Public Library events will be online and accessible to most Kansans. To learn more and participate, visit https://www.wichitalibrary.org/baseball
 

The Other Boys of Summer Film & Discussion
Saturday, June 12
11:00 AM – 12:30 PM | Zoom

The Other Boys of Summer explores civil rights in America through the lives of the Negro League baseball players. Following the screening, Emmy-nominated director Lauren Meyer will engage the audience in dialogue about the story behind the film and answer questions about her research.

 

TKAAM Thursdays: The Wichita Monrovians, Colored Western League
Thursday, June 17
12:00 PM – 1:00 PM | Facebook Live

The Kansas African American Museum will feature professor and baseball expert John E. Dreifort as he discusses the Wichita Monrovians baseball team and its big games, including the day they played Wichita’s Ku Klux Klan #6 on Ackerman Island. 

 

Mexican American Baseball in Kansas
Sunday, June 27
2:00 PM – 3:30 PM | Zoom

In the 1930s through the 1950s, Mexican American immigrants worked the railroads in many Kansas towns. For recreation, they formed baseball teams. Historian and author Raymond Olais will present the history of the Mexican American baseball teams in Kansas.

 

36 Teams in Wichita: How the NBC World Series Led the Way to Baseball Integration
Thursday, July 8
6:00 PM – 7:00 PM | Zoom

When the NBC Tournament got started in Wichita, it became one of the first places in the US where spectators could watch racially integrated baseball. Baseball historian Phil Dixon will discuss the importance of the tournament and how it helped pave the way to racially integrated baseball nationwide. 

 

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