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Fri, 09.28.1990

The Negro League Baseball Museum Opens

*The opening of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM) occurred on this date in 1990.  NLBM is a privately funded museum dedicated to preserving the history of Negro League Baseball in America.

It was founded in Kansas City, Missouri, in the historic 18th & Vine District, the hub of the Black cultural activity in Kansas City during the first half of the 20th century. The NLBM shares its building with the American Jazz Museum. It was founded in 1990 by a group of former Negro League baseball players, including Alfred Surratt, Buck O'Neil, Larry Lester, and Horace Peterson.

It moved from its original small, single-room office inside the Lincoln Building at historic 18th & Vine Streets in Kansas City to a 2,000-square-foot space in 1994.  Three years later, in 1997, the museum relocated again to a 10,000-square-foot purpose-built structure five times the previous size.  The museum was on the verge of financial collapse in 2008 before rebounding with stronger leadership and greater engagement with the community. By 2012, the museum experienced a profit of $300,000, its most successful year since 2007. 

The museum chronologically charts the progress of the Negro Leagues with informative placards and interactive exhibits. Its walls are lined with pictures of players, owners, and officials of Negro Baseball League from the Negro National League of 1920 through the Negro American League, which lasted until 1962. As visitors examine the exhibit, they move forward in time through the history of Black baseball in the Americas. In one area of the museum, lockers are set up for some of the legends of the Negro leagues. One can see game-worn uniforms, cleats, gloves, and other artifacts. An impressive part of the museum is the Field of Legends. Separated from the visitor at the entrance by chicken wire, it is accessible only at the end of the tour.

One can walk onto a field adorned by nearly life-sized bronze statues of twelve figures from Negro League history. Crouching behind the plate is Josh Gibson, one of the most prolific hitters in baseball history, a man who allegedly hit over 80 home runs in one season. At first base is another Baseball Hall of Famer, Buck Leonard of the Homestead Grays. At second base is John Pop Lloyd, Judy Johnson monitors shortstop, while Ray Dandridge holds down third base. Cool Papa Bell, Oscar Charleston, and Leon Day are in the outfield. On the mound is Satchel Paige, who became a rookie in the major leagues at age 42 in 1948. At the plate is Martín Dihigo, the only man to be inducted into the Halls of Fame in three countries: Mexico, Cuba, and the United States. Other statues commemorate Rube Foster, the founder of the first Negro National League, and O'Neil, a former Kansas City Monarch and a member of the museum board until his October 6, 2006, death.

In 2008, Geddy Lee (of the Canadian band Rush), an avid baseball fan, donated nearly 200 autographed baseballs to the NLBM. The signatures on these baseballs include names such as Hank Aaron, Cool Papa Bell, and Lionel Hampton. At the time, Lee's gift was one of the largest single donations the NLBM had ever received.  In 2012, the family of Buck O'Neil donated two items to the museum in honor of what would have been his 101st birthday. O'Neil's Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Also given to the museum was a miniature replica of the Buck O'Neil statue, which is displayed at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. An advance screening of the movie 42, a biographical film about the life of Jackie Robinson, who played for the Kansas City Monarchs before breaking baseball's color barrier, was held in Kansas City on April 11, 2013, a day before its nationwide release, as a benefit for the NLBM.   In June 2019, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum was awarded the Gold American Award for Nonprofit Organization of the Year from the American Business Awards. 

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