Effa Manley

Last month, I noted that I was going to be reading about Effa Manley, the first woman in baseball’s Hall of Fame. You’ll note friend Fred’s commenting on former ESPN anchor and current MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann’s ire at the exclusion of “baseball’s greatest ambassador: Buck O’Neil”. In that rant, he noted that:
“To honor the Negro Leagues, that committee also elected two white owners, J.L. Wilkinson of the Kansas City Monarchs and Effa Manley of the Newark Eagles, whose co-owner husband reportedly traded away at least one of the team‘s players because she was having an affair with that player.”

Fred wished me good luck in my read.

So, what does James Overmyer, author of “Effa Manley and the Newark Eagles”, have to say about these issues?

First off, I don’t know that whether her sex life is a relevant issue, but I’ll get back to that shortly.

On the other topic:

Late in her life…Effa claimed she was not only the illegitimate offspring of a liaison between a seamstress named Bertha Ford Brooks, and a man at whose house she worked, financier John M. Bishop. And since both were Caucasian, Effa in fact was a genetically white person who nevertheless spent her entire life living, without regret, in a black world.
In 1977 she said, “My mother was a white woman. Her first husband was a Negro by whom she had four children. In the course of her sewing, she met my father, who was a wealthy white man…and I was born as a result.” Her mother’s husband, sued the white financier for alienation of Mrs. Brooks’ affection and won a $10,000 settlement.
Mr. and Mrs. Brooks parted company over the affair, and Effa’s mother married another black, B.A. Cole. The family included seven childen, six whose black fathers made them definitely regarded as Negroes, plus Effa, about whom questions were frequently raised…
She could never offer a real reason for choosing to live as a black, even when the truth told to her in her teens [by her mother] might have caused her to abandon a life that would clearly subject her to bias, no matter how subtle…In her old age…she mused: “I’ve often wondered what it would be like to associate with white people.”

So, she was “biologically white”, whatever that means. But she passed for black, something one doesn’t often find. Back at the turn of the 20th century, the U.S. government had very specific terms for mixed race people: mulatto, octoroon, and quadroon, and the Census enumerators were instructed to pay close attention to these distinctions.

Whereas, if she were filling out a Census form in 2000, or indeed for the past few decades, she would be able to determine what race she is. Regarding racial statistics, according to the Census Bureau: “They generally reflect a social definition of race recognized in this country. They do not conform to any biological, anthropological, or genetic criteria.” So, if Effa Manley wanted to identify as black, then she should have been able to do so.

As for her sexual proclivities, Overmyer writes:

Recollections of Effa include accounts of her attraction to some of the Eagles, particularly the irrepressible Terris “the Great” McDuffie. Effa, [her husband] Abe [pictured above with Effa], and McDuffie took the facts of this alleged triangle to their graves…

In any case, whether someone had had an affair generally doesn’t matter in terms of their suitability for baseball’s Hall of Fame, although I believe there is at least one currently HoF-eligible player that has been kept out for that very reason.

I haven’t even touched on how difficult it was for Effa to operate in the male-dominated arena. It’s unfortunate that Olbermann’s concern for O’Neil seemed to cast aspersions on the qualifications of Effa Manley to be in the baseball Hall of Fame.

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