January 18, 1943 – Wartime Ban on Sale of Sliced Bread Goes into Effect in the U.S.

In 1927, Otto F. Rohwedder invented the first automatic bread-slicing machine for commercial baking. He applied for patents and sold his first machine to the Missouri based Chillicothe Baking Company in 1928. The first loaf of sliced bread was sold commercially on July 7, 1928.

An article in “The Mercury News” observed:

Frank Bench’s bakery increased its bread sales by 2,000 percent in two weeks,” Rohwedder’s son, who was 13 years old in 1928, told the Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune in a 2003 interview. Before long, Rohwedder had a backlog of orders; his slicers helped put the wonder in Wonder Bread.”

Sales of the machine to other bakeries increased and sliced bread became available across the country. A baker in St. Louis, Missouri improved upon the machine, also developing a way to have the machine wrap the bread to keep it fresh.

In 1930 Continental Baking Company introduced Wonder Bread as a sliced bread. By 1932 the availability of standardized slices had boosted sales of automatic, pop-up toasters, an invention by Charles Strite in 1921.

In 1933 American bakeries for the first time produced more sliced than unsliced bread loaves. According to Mental Floss:

Bakeries began advertising the pre-cut loaves as ‘the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped,’ prompting Americans to coin that immortal phrase: ‘The greatest thing since sliced bread.’”

During World War II, however, Claude R. Wickard, then Secretary of Agriculture, thought it was a good idea to ban pre-sliced bread, officially issuing the order on this day in history. One goal of the ban was to reduce bakeries’ demand for metal replacement parts. Another was related to the country’s supply of wax paper. (Sliced bread, as Mental Floss explained, required twice as much paraffin wrapping as an unsliced loaf in order to prevent the slices from drying prematurely.) Perhaps most importantly, Wickard wanted to keep down the cost of wheat and therefore of flour.

Claude Wickard (1940), by the US Department of Agriculture, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Ben Kageyama, writing for “The Medium,” pointed out that there was no actual concern for wax paper supplies, and the U.S. also had plenty of wheat stockpiles. Supplies of steel would also not be significantly affected by bakers’ infrequent purchases of bread machines and parts.

In any event, there was a public outcry, and within just three months after the ban, the War Food Administration lifted it. On March 8, 1943, Americans got back their now-beloved sliced bread. As “The New York Times” observed: “Housewives’ Thumbs Safe Again.”

January 15, 1697 – Massachusetts Citizens Observe Day of Repentance for the Salem Witch Trials of 1692

On this day in history, Massachusetts citizens observed a day of fasting and repentance for the Salem witch trials of 1692, in which 19 suspected witches were hanged and more than 150 imprisoned. One accused witch (or wizard, as male witches were often called) was pressed to death when he failed to plead guilty or not guilty, and from four to thirteen of the imprisoned died in prison. Moreover, some of the families had their farms, equipment, and livestock seized.

“The Witch, No. 1” by Joseph E. Baker, circa 1892 via Wikimedia Commons

The repentance day was scheduled on December 17, 1696:

That so all of God’s people may offer up fervent supplications unto him, that all iniquity may be put away, which hath stirred God’s holy jealousy against this land; that he would show us what we know not, and help us, wherein we have done amiss, to do so no more.”

As an article in christianity.com recounted, the witch hysteria was marked by “groundless accusation, scapegoating, or the product of mass suggestion.” At the trials, no evidence of witchcraft was presented, nor was the usual requirement observed of at least two witnesses to substantiate any accusation.

Prominent Boston minister Increase Mather spoke out against the trials, although not against the judges, according to Professor Douglas Linder at the UMKC School of Law, “most likely because many of them were his personal friends.”

Increase Mather in 1688, when he was in London. Portrait by John van der Spriett.

Professor Linder writes:

Increase visited many of the accused in prison, and several of them recanted their confessions to him. About the time rumors began that Increase’s wife would be named a witch, he presented his ‘Case of Conscience,’ which represented a dramatic break from his former position on witchcraft. In it he publicly questioned the credibility of the possessed persons, confessed witches, and spectral evidence.”

Christianity.com notes that “Such was the prestige of Increase, that the trials quickly ended.”

Following the resolution to fast and repent, one judge, Samuel Sewell, published a written confession acknowledging his own “blame and shame.” Members of the jury said they’d been unable to “withstand the mysterious delusion of the power of darkness and prince of the air.” (I.e., the devil made them do it.) Nevertheless, they confessed their error and prayed for God’s forgiveness and guidance in the future.

In 1710, the Massachusetts legislature reversed some of the convictions, and in the following years authorities gave compensation to the families of the accused witches.

UMKC Law School has a website giving a great many details, including original documents, relating to the Salem Witch Trials, here.

January 12, 1932 – Hattie Wyatt Caraway Becomes the 1st Woman Elected to the U.S. Senate

On this day in history, Hattie Wyatt Caraway from Arkansas became the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate. She was the second woman to become a senator, and she served for 14 years. In 1943, she became the first woman to preside over the Senate.

Hattie Caraway

She was born in 1878 in Tennessee and attended college there. In 1902 she married Thaddeus Caraway and they settled in Arkansas. In 1912 Thaddeus was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and in 1921 he became a U.S. Senator. After he died in office in 1931, the Arkansas governor followed the precedent of appointing widows to take their husbands’ places temporarily and appointed Hattie Caraway to the vacant seat. She was sworn into office on December 9, 1931.

(As the U.S. House history site reports, “The Washington Post” blasted Parnell’s rationale. “Representation in Congress belongs to the people of the State,” the Post editors wrote. “Mrs. Caraway should have been given the appointment on her own merit and not on the basis of sentimentality or family claim upon the seat.”)

With the backing of the Democratic Party of Arkansas, she easily won a special election in January, 1932 (with 92 percent of the vote) for the remaining months of the term, becoming the first woman elected to the Senate.

In May, 1932, Caraway surprised Arkansas politicians by announcing that she would run for a full term in the upcoming election. She told reporters, “The time has passed when a woman should be placed in a position and kept there only while someone else is being groomed for the job.”

The former governor and current senator Huey Long of neighboring Louisiana traveled to Arkansas on a seven-day campaign swing on her behalf. Thaddeus Caraway had often allied with him, and Hattie Caraway also supported his legislative proposals. As for Long, the House history site explains that he had presidential ambitions and wanted to prove his popularity outside his home state by campaigning in the state of his chief rival, A biographer of Caraway stated that Long helped her amass nearly twice as many votes as her closest opponent. (Nancy Hendricks, Senator Hattie Caraway: An Arkansas Legacy) In the seven–way primary, Caraway won 44.7 percent of the vote, carrying 61 of the state’s 75 counties.

Huey Long

In 1938, Caraway ran for reelection against Congressman John L. McClellan. The online Encyclopedia of Arkansas notes that his slogan was “We need another man in the Senate.” Nevertheless, she had the support of veterans, women, and union members, and won the election.

Caraway had several Senate committee assignments and in 1933 became the first woman to chair a committee when she was elected to head the Committee on Enrolled Bills; she retained that position until she left Congress in 1945. She also became the first woman to preside over the Senate, the first senior woman Senator (when Joe Robinson died in 1937), and the first woman to run a Senate hearing.

She sustained a special interest in relief for farmers, flood control, and veterans’ benefits, all of direct concern to her constituents, and cast her votes for nearly every New Deal measure. She maintained loyalty to the South, however, when it came to race issues. Caraway voted against the antilynching law of 1938 and, in 1942, joined other southern Senators in a filibuster to block a proposed bill that would have eliminated the poll tax. She also was a strict prohibitionist.

Although she carefully prepared herself for Senate work, Caraway spoke infrequently and rarely made speeches on the floor. She was sometimes portrayed by patronizing reporters as “Silent Hattie.” She made only fifteen speeches on theSenate floor during her thirteen-year tenure. She once explained her reticence by explaining, “I haven’t the heart to take a minute away from the men. The poor dears love it so.” (quoted in Women’s Political Discourse: A 21st-Century Perspective by Molly Mayhad and Brenda DeVore Marshall, p. 47)

In 1943, Caraway became the first woman in Congress to cosponsor the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution.

But Caraway was always careful to point out that she did not support or oppose legislation because of her gender. Rather, she claimed, her views were dependent on rational thinking and debate (Megaphones to Microphones: Speeches of American Women, 1920-1960 by Sandra J. Sarkela, Susan Ross, and Margaret Lowe, p. 185.)

In 1944, Caraway faced a tough field of Democratic primary challengers in her bid for renomination. Her campaign was uninspired, the House history site observes, and she finished last among the four contenders. The winner, a dynamic freshman Representative and former University of Arkansas president, J. William Fulbright, was eventually elected and served for three decades as one of the Senate’s most influential Members. Caraway’s Senate service ended on January 2, 1945.

Franklin Roosevelt nominated Caraway in early 1945 as a member of the Federal Employees’ Compensation Commission, where she served for a year. In 1946, President Harry S. Truman elevated her to the commission’s appeals board, where she remained until her death on December 21, 1950, in Falls Church, Virginia.

On February 21, 2001, the United States Postal Service issued a 76-cent Distinguished Americans series postage stamp in her honor. Her gravesite at Oaklawn Cemetery in Jonesboro, Arkansas, was listed in 2007 on the National Register of Historic Places.

January 9, 1861 – Mississippi Becomes the Second State to Secede from the Union

Mississippi joined the Union as the 20th state on December 10, 1817. On January 9, 1861, Mississippi became the second state to declare its secession from the Union, voting in favor of secession by a vote of 83-15 with one in absentia.

Mississippi in the United States

Mississippi in the United States

In the state’s “Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union,” Mississippi provided the reasons why it took the position that it could no longer be a part of the United States, a position, as it stated, which “is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery–the greatest material interest of the world.”

Among the “crimes” committed by the Federal Government, Mississippi listed:

It advocates negro equality, socially and politically, and promotes insurrection and incendiarism in our midst.

It has enlisted its press, its pulpit and its schools against us, until the whole popular mind of the North is excited and inflamed with prejudice.

It has made combinations and formed associations to carry out its schemes of emancipation in the States and wherever else slavery exists.

It seeks not to elevate or to support the slave, but to destroy his present condition without providing a better.

. . .

Utter subjugation awaits us in the Union, if we should consent longer to remain in it. It is not a matter of choice, but of necessity. We must either submit to degradation, and to the loss of property worth four billions of money, or we must secede from the Union framed by our fathers, to secure this as well as every other species of property. For far less cause than this, our fathers separated from the Crown of England.”

Imagine the outrage that the North wanted to provide Blacks with a condition different from dawn to dusk work, rape and beatings, forced mating, and the threat of being sold to even worse conditions at any time!

Mississippi’s Declaration concluded: “. . . for the reasons here stated, we resolve to maintain our rights with the full consciousness of the justice of our course, and the undoubting belief of our ability to maintain it.”

Today, Mississippi has the distinction of being “the Nation’s most segregated state.” In 2018, author and National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward wrote in “The Atlantic”:

The seed of difference, and the belief in our poverty, our inferiority, persists. This seed, present at the beginning of our subjugation as slaves, has sprouted and thrived as virulently as kudzu. It has strangled us for hundreds of years. Under the thin veneer of mutability, the belief that anyone of African descent is inferior still flourishes: sunk into the soil, springing from the well of the rivers. It made itself known after emancipation, when minor offenses committed by black people led to imprisonment for crimes such as vagrancy and loitering and petty thievery, especially of food, and black men and women were essentially re-enslaved; a century later, some civil-rights activists in Mississippi would be sentenced to the notorious Parchman Farm to suffer torture. The belief made itself known when Mississippi finally ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, banning slavery—on February 7, 2013. Now it makes itself known in the letters to the editor of local papers, where white people excoriate any and all activities associated with black college students’ spring-break festivities. It makes itself known when high-school football players take a knee in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, and then the parents of their white classmates call them nigger thugs. It made itself known on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2017, when the city of Biloxi declared that it would celebrate “Great Americans Day” instead.”

Mississippi State Representatives still support the Confederacy – 2017 (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

January 6, 1780 – Brotherton Indians in New Jersey Agree Not to Sell Their Land to White Settlers

Brothertown Indians are a Native American tribe formed in the late 18th century from communities of so-called “praying Indians” (or Moravian Indians), an amalgamation of many Algonquin tribes, especially the Lenni-Lenape (or Delaware) Indians of New Jersey.

As the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History reports, New Jersey set aside its first Indian reservation for these converted Indians, known as “Brotherton,” near present-day Indian Mills in Burlington County. Led by the Reverend John Brainerd, a missionary, approximately 200 Native Americans settled at Brotherton and established a community around grist- and sawmills.

The reservation never became self-sufficient, and after Brainerd left in 1777, circumstances became increasingly difficult.

A document produced on thus day in history shows the Indians’ attempt to retain control over the Brotherton land. The residents agreed to stop leasing or selling their lands to white settlers in order to maintain peace within the tribe:

Be it known by this, that it has been in our consideration of late about settling of White People on the Indian Lands, And we have concluded that it is a thing which ought not to be, & a thing that will not be allowed by us, that of Renting or giving Leases for said Lands, hereafter, no, not by the proprietors themselves without the consent of the rest much more by those who has no Claim or Rite here . . . We have come upon those resolutions we hope for our better living in friendship among one another, it may be that there is some which does not like white people for their Neighbours, for fear of their not agreeing as they ought to do. it might be about there children or about something they have about them we know not what, Again it may be the white Man may do something either upon Land Timber or something else which some one of the proprietors would not like & from thence would come great deal of Disquietness.”

But conditions at the reservation continued to deteriorate. In 1802, the New Jersey Assembly agreed to sell the reservation and give the profits to the remaining tribal members. Most of the men and women from Brotherton left New Jersey to join the Oneidas.

The Wisconsin Historical Society recounts that In the 1820s, as white settlers pushed further west, the Brothertons were dispossessed and forced to move again. With their Oneida and Stockbridge neighbors, they came to Wisconsin in the 1820s and 1830s, settling along the eastern shore of Lake Winnebago.

via The Algonkian Church History Blog

In 1839 they were the first tribe of Native Americans in the United States to accept United States citizenship and allotment of their communal land to individual households, in order to prevent another removal further west. Most of the neighboring Oneida and many of the Lenape (Delaware) were removed to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) in this period.

Unfortunately, allotment divided up the land as private property belonging to each tribal member and took away the right for the Brothertown Nation to govern their own land. This left Brothertown tribal members vulnerable to foreclosure and taxation, with many people losing their land by the end of allotment.

Today, members of the Brothertown Indian Nation live all over Wisconsin and the U.S., with the largest concentration around Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.

The Brotherton Indian Nation does not yet have federal recognition, though the Brotherton Tribal Council has been working towards formal recognition since 1996 (and petitioning Congress since the 1870s). The benefits of “official” status include financial support and federal services, which could lead to further economic stability and give more opportunities to preserve Brotherton heritage and identity.

You can visit the Brotherton (now called Brothertown) Nation’s website here.

You can read the document of January 6, 1780 here.

January 3, 1935 – First time Congress Convened Pursuant to Requirements of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution

On this day in history, the 74th Congress (1935-1937) became the first to convene at noon on January 3, as provided for in the 20th Amendment. As a House of Representatives History webpage points out:

Since the First Federal Congress (1789–1791), the official start date of the new Congress was March 4, a tradition dating back to the Articles of Confederation. The late winter date accommodated 18th and 19th-century Members who relied on primitive means of transportation to reach the capital city. . . . Reformers eventually sought an amendment to push back the start date to early January in order to shorten the “lame duck” session in election years (November to the following March). In 1923, Senator George Norris of Nebraska authored the initial resolution that provided the basis for the 20th Amendment. Nearly a decade later, Congress approved the amendment and the states swiftly ratified it.”

The Amendment also stipulated that the terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January.

You can read the text of the 20th Amendment here.

December 29, 1971 – Death of Supreme Court Associate Justice John Marshall Harlan II

John Marshall Harlan II was born on May 20, 1899 in Chicago, Illinois, and was named after his grandfather, who was an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court form 1877 to 1911.

Harlan went to Princeton where he earned a Rhodes Scholarship to study law at the University of Oxford. After returning home, he enrolled in New York Law School, getting his degree in 1924 while apprenticing at a New York law firm. His mentor there appointed him as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. He returned to private practice after 1930.

He returned to public service in 1951 and was nominated by President Eisenhower to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1954. A year later, in January 1955, President Eisenhower nominated him to the U.S. Supreme Court, to take the seat of the recently deceased Justice Robert H. Jackson.

The Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States (Artist: Gardener Cox)

The Oyez site reports that Congressional leaders, especially those from the South, were worried about the potential of a liberal justice being appointed to the Court following the landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Therefore, Harlan appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee prior to his confirmation in order to respond to questions about his judicial philosophy. This had never been done before, but it set a precedent for every future Supreme Court nomination.

Harlan was confirmed on March 17, 1955 by a 71-11 vote and took office that same day. (Nine of the eleven senators who voted against his confirmation were southerners who were deeply concerned that Harlan would support desegregation and other civil rights initiatives.)

While Justice Harlan was considered to be a member of the conservative wing of the court, and someone who believed in a limited federal judiciary, he did regularly vote to expand civil rights. He voted with the majority to compel public officials to desegregate Arkansas public schools (Cooper v. Aaron) and joined the unanimous decision to end the ban on interracial marriages (Loving v. Virginia).

By the late 1960s, Harlan’s health started to deteriorate, beginning with his eyesight. He retired from the Court on September 23, 1971 and died of cancer at age 72 on December 29, 1971, on this day in history.

After Harlan’s retirement, President Nixon appointed William Rehnquist to replace him.

December 26, 1820 – Jefferson Argues for the Morality of Extending Slavery Westward

On this day in history, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to Albert Gallatin, who at the time was U.S. Minister to France. Having retired from the presidency, Jefferson continued to correspond with many of the country’s leaders, spending several hours a day writing letters.

He first complains about the infirmities of aging (he would die six years later at the age of 83) and then comments on the “storms gathering” in Europe. But things are not going well in the U.S. either, he contends, largely because of the Federalists, of course, i.e., his political enemies.

Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale, 1805

In particular he mentioned the Missouri Compromise, which was touted as a “moral” solution to the conflict over slavery. He wrote:

Moral the question certainly is not, because the removal of slaves from one state to another, no more than their removal from one county to another, would never make a slave of one human being who would not be so without it. indeed if there were any morality in the question, it is on the other side; because by spreading them over a larger surface, their happiness would be increased, & the burthen of their future liberation lightened by bringing a greater number of shoulders under it.”

Moreover, Jefferson argues, let Congress start regulating the condition of the inhabitants of the states, and before you know it, it could “next declare that the condition of all men within the US. shall be that of freedom.” The horror! The whites would have to evacuate their states!

On the other hand, he somewhat contradicts himself by suggesting that as a positive side effect, the whole controversy “has brought the necessity of some plan of general emancipation & deportation more home to the minds of our people than it has ever been before.”

His proposal for all slaveholders (or maybe all but him), is that:

. . . the holders should give up all born after a certain day, past, present, or to come, that these should be placed under the guardianship of the state, and sent at a proper age to St Domingo. there they are willing to recieve them, & the shortness of the passage brings the deportation within the possible means of taxation aided by charitable contributions. in this I think Europe, which has forced this evil on us, and the Eastern states who have been it’s chief instruments of importation, would be bound to give largely. but the proceeds of the land office, if appropriated to this would be quite sufficient.” (emphasis added)

You can read the entirety of the letter here.

Book Review of “The Triumph of Christianity” by Bart D. Ehrman, a History of Early Development of Christianity

Jesus died around 30 CE., at which time he had only a handful of followers, all of whom considered themselves to be Jews. But by the late third century, Christianity had split off from Judaism, and attracted enough followers that the Roman Emperor, Diocletian, felt it threatened the stability of the state and vigorously persecuted it. Despite the persecutions, by 313, it had grown sufficiently powerful and significant that the new Emperor (Constantine) even converted to Christianity himself. He then issued the Edict of Milan, which granted official tolerance to Christianity. And in 380, Emperor Theodosius issued the Edict of Thessalonica, making it the only authorized religion in the Empire. How could the religion have grown so fast?

Bart Ehrman, professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, attempts to answer that question in The Triumph of Christianity.

Ehrman points out that the Romans were generally very tolerant of all religions. When new peoples entered the empire (usually by conquest) the Romans simply added and adopted the gods of the new people to their pantheon (with a lower case ‘p’). In fact, they did not even have a word for “pagan,” since virtually everyone in the empire recognized some or all of the Roman gods. The Romans tolerated the Jews, who worshipped only one god, probably because the Jews did not proselytize.

But the Christians were different. They proselytized vigorously. Moreover, they were exclusive in that they taught that the worship of gods other than their own was sinful. There was no room for other gods in their society. Each new convert to Christianity reduced the number of believers in the traditional Roman deities.

Ehrman argues cogently that Saul of Tarsus, better known as Saint Paul, was the most important convert in history. Although a Jew by birth, Paul fundamentally changed early Christianity from an inward-looking Jewish cult to a cosmopolitan, outward-looking, proselytizing organization.

Conversion of St. Paul, Michaelangelo, Sistine Chapel

What arguments did the early Christians use to convert others? To the Jews, the Christians asserted that Jesus fulfilled Jewish prophesies of a Messiah. This argument required a rather radical reinterpretation of those prophesies since most Jews expected the Messiah to create a formidable Jewish earthly kingdom. The argument had limited success.

To the pagans, the Christians claimed that Jesus worked many miracles. Although few if any Christians had actually witnessed the miracles, many had heard about them and repeated the tales with great conviction.

Ehrman also notes that Christianity as a community resource was very attractive to Roman pagans: it emphasized the church as an accepting family that would care for all of its members; it welcomed women; and as a bonus, guaranteed life after death.

Finally, the Christians in essence threatened nonbelievers with the prospect of eternal damnation and hellfire. That argument was strong enough to convince even the brilliant philosopher, mathematician, and gambler Blaise Pascal (albeit many centuries later) that it paid to hedge one’s bets and practice Christianity.

The actual growth rate of Christianity was not as staggering as it may first appear. Ehrman shows that the church had to grow by only about 3% per year to reach 10% of the population – 2.5 million people – by the year 300. By 380, it had reached majority status.

Emperor Constantine I

The second most important convert of all time after Paul was probably Emperor Constantine I. Although many historians have argued that he may have feigned his conversion, Ehrman argues that it was genuine. He had little to gain politically from converting since Christianity was a distinct minority at the time. Moreover, he took an active part in shaping Christian doctrine, calling for the historic Council of Nicaea in 325 to settle various theological issues. His conversion was especially significant not only because of the example he provided, but since all of his successors (except Julian, who ruled only from 361 to 363) espoused Christianity as well.

The story of the first two centuries of Christianity is open to a lot of speculation because the cult was too small to attract the attention of contemporary secular historians. The accounts in the apocryphal gospels are too fantastic to merit credibility. Even the canonical gospels are hard for nonbelievers to accept. Thus it is important for serious modern historians like Ehrman to piece together and interpret what is actually known about that time.

Evaluation: As usual, Ehrman doesn’t break any new ground, but repackages what is already known into a non-academic, reader-friendly format. His subject matter happens to be endlessly fascinating and consequential, which also helps.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Published by Simon & Schuster, 2018

December 21, 1911 – Birthdate of Joshua Gibson

Josh Gibson, an American catcher in baseball’s Negro leagues, is considered by baseball historians to have been among the very best catchers and power hitters in the history of any league. In fact, he was known as “the black Babe Ruth.”

Josh Gibson

Josh Gibson

According to an article from Time Magazine dated July 19, 1943,

“The Grays [Gibson’s then team] have adopted boomtown Washington as their second home town, play in Washington’s Griffith Stadium every available Sunday, in Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field every available Saturday. In Washington they often draw larger crowds than Clark Griffith’s Senators. Few weeks ago a capacity crowd of 32,000 saw the Grays play the Cuban Stars. Idol of these happy fans is Catcher Josh (for Joshua) Gibson, a hulking 215-pounder with features vaguely suggestive of a very dark Babe Ruth.”

Gibson never played in Major League Baseball because whites were excluded during his lifetime. But he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.

During Gibson’s career, he played ball with Hall of Famers Oscar Charlston, Cool Papa Bell, Judy Johnson, and Satchel Paige. The Homestead Grays won an unprecedented nine consecutive Negro National League pennants with Gibson behind the plate.

As reported on his site at the online Baseball Hall of Fame, Sam Jethroe of the Cleveland Buckeyes said, ““If someone had told me Josh hit the ball a mile, I would have believed them.”

13 Aug 1944, Chicago, Illinois, USA --- Josh Gibson of the East team Josh Gibson scores a run in the 1944 Negro League East-West All-Star Game at Comiskey Park

13 Aug 1944, Chicago, Illinois, USA — Josh Gibson of the East team Josh Gibson scores a run in the 1944 Negro League East-West All-Star Game at Comiskey Park

The Negro leagues generally found it more profitable to schedule relatively few league games and allow the teams to earn extra money through barnstorming against semi-professional and other non-league teams. Therefore players tended to have two sets of statistics, one for all levels of competition, and one for Negro League play only. But compilation of statistics on black players even in League play was spotty.

Gibson’s lifetime batting average is said to be higher than .350, with other sources putting it as high as .384, the best in Negro League history. Based on research of historical accounts performed for the Special Committee on the Negro Leagues, Gibson hit 224 homers in 2,375 at-bats against top black teams, 2 in 56 at-bats against white major-league pitchers and 44 in 450 AB in the Mexican League. John Holway lists Gibson with the same home run totals and a .351 career average, plus 21 for 56 against white major-league pitchers.

In early 1943, Josh Gibson fell into a coma and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He refused the option of surgical removal, and lived the next four years with recurring headaches. Gibson died of a stroke in 1947 at age 35, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, just three months before Jackie Robinson became the first black player in modern major league history.