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Black History Month

On this day in black history: It’s time for some Negro League baseball, opera performances surface and finally a professional basketball team

Black History Month: The Undefeated edition Feb. 13

1920 — Negro National League founded
There was a need for more African-American players in baseball, but the Jim Crow laws that ruled much of the South prevented players from finding teams on which they could play alongside their white counterparts. To allow African-Americans to freely showcase their talents without being banned or ridiculed, Andrew “Rube” Foster, a baseball player and manager, along with other team owners, created eight teams under the Negro National League, which was founded in Kansas City, Missouri.

The Negro Leagues allowed fellow African-Americans to become managers of their own teams. Foster, the NNL president who also pitched in the Negro Leagues for the Chicago American Giants, moved up the ranks to manage and own the team. The league continued a solid run through the 1920s until being forced to temporarily disband in 1931, shortly after the start of the Great Depression and a year after Foster’s death. The league returned in 1933 under new ownership, lasting until 1949. Foster was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981.

1893 — The first opera performance by an African-American
Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones, simply known as Sissieretta Jones, took her place on the main stage during a benefit concert held for the World’s Fair Colored Opera Company at Carnegie Hall, making her the first African-American to do so.

Jones, a soprano who was often referred to as the “Black Patti” after famous Italian opera singer Adelina Patti, came from humble beginnings in Portsmouth, Virginia, before moving to Providence, Rhode Island, with her family. In Rhode Island, Jones attended the Providence Academy of Music before being accepted to the New England Conservatory of Music. Jones went on to have a successful career, performing in front of large crowds at Boston’s Music Hall, at the White House for four presidents and the Grand Negro Jubilee at Madison Square Garden in New York.

1923 — The first black pro basketball team — The Renaissance
Similar to the Negro Leagues, black basketball players desperately searched for a space they could call their own. Often being shut out from playing sports with white players, black players were encouraged and determined to start their own. Thus, the New York Renaissance — The Rens — was created.

The first all-black pro basketball team was the brainchild of Bob Douglas, an athlete and passionate sports promoter who was known as the “father of black basketball.” Before founding The Rens, Douglas spent time in New York creating amateur teams that would play against each other for fun. According to NBA.com, Douglas made a deal with the owners of the Harlem Renaissance Casino in 1923 to name his team the Renaissance, which would bring publicity to the casino. The team would play home games on the casino’s ballroom floor in Harlem, New York.

Although The Rens played against everyone from black college to semipro teams, the team didn’t receive a warm reception while traveling away from home. After winning 112 games and losing only seven in the franchise’s history, the team disbanded in 1949 during the continually changing landscape of the sport. Douglas was the first African-American to be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1972.

2003 — KG, Timmy and Shaq make up perhaps the greatest All-Star front court in history
Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal teamed up to lead the Western Conference All-Stars to a 137-126 win in the 2003 NBA All-Star Game. This big three may be one of the best frontcourts the league will ever see representing the West.

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.