National Press Club

NPC member raps about 'Color Blind: The Forgotten Team that Broke Baseball’s Color Line'

April 8, 2013 | By Joe Motheral |

Well before Jackie Robinson took to the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 becoming the first African-American to play Major League Baseball since a ban on black players had been imposed in 1880s, a semi-professional baseball team was integrated.

National Press Club member Tom Dunkel appeared at an April 4 Book & Author Committee Book Rap to discuss his just-published first book, Color Blind: The Forgotten Team that Broke Baseball's Color Line.

In Color Blind, Dunkel tells the story a baseball team in Bismarck, N.D., that was integrated during the 1930s. The book opens the door to a largely forgotten bit of baseball history.

“I stumbled on the story when I read an obituary. It was Ted Radcliffe who died in 2005 at age 103. He was a baseball player who played for Bismarck," Dunkel said.

Probably the most famous player on the team known as the Bismarck Churchills was Satchel Paige, who was 42 when he joined the Cleveland Indians in 1948, Dunkel said. Both Paige and another player for the Churchills, Hilton Smith, are in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Dunkel credits Neil Churchill, an owner of the local Chrysler dealership and was intent on fielding the best baseball team, “regardless of color” for bringing together both black and white players. The photo on the front of Dunkel’s book shows that a camaraderie existed among the players.

“The Bismarck team was integrated and harmonious," Dunkel said.

While Bismarck played in the semi-pro leagues, Dunkel said, “They were as good as any minor league team.”

Bismarck played in a 1935 nationwide baseball tournament in Wichita, Kan. Branch Rickey, who ultimately was responsible for signing Jackie Robinson as a Brooklyn Dodger was at that tournament. Rickey's observations there may have planted the seed that one day grew into breaking the color barrier in the majors, Dunkel said.

Joe Luchok of the sponsoring Book and Author Committee set the stage with his introduction noting that baseball was integrated until the 1880s when African-American players were banned from playing on Major League Baseball teams.