March 27, 1897 – Birth of Effa Manley – Civil Rights Activist and 1st Woman Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame

Effa Louise Manley, 1897-1981, is the first woman inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and perhaps the first African-American woman, but her racial origins are unclear.

She was raised in Philadelphia by a white mother and black stepfather, and regardless of her looks, she identified as black.

What we know for sure is that she was crazy about baseball.

Effa Manley

In 1935 she married a black man, Abe Manley, after meeting him at a New York Yankees game. As the Baseball Hall of Fame website tells the story:

Nearly 15 years her senior, Abe had already established his reputation in the local community as a baseball man. Together they forged a partnership that resulted in the rapid rise to fame of the Newark Eagles, a team they owned from 1935 (moved from Brooklyn to Newark in 1936) until she sold the club to a group of investors in 1948.”

1946 Newark Eagles

Effa displayed particular skill in the area of marketing and often scheduled promotions that advanced the Civil Rights Movement, a cause to which she was wholly committed. For example, according to Aimee Crawford, writing about the “Negro Leagues Legacy” for the online Major League Baseball website:

As part of her work for the Citizen’s League for Fair Play, Manley organized a 1934 boycott of Harlem stores that refused to hire black salesclerks. After six weeks, the owners of the stores relented, and a year later 300 blacks were employed by the stores on 125th Street.”

She also served as the treasurer of the Newark chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and in 1939, held an “Anti-Lynching Day” at Ruppert Stadium (a baseball stadium in Newark, New Jersey that was home to the Newark Eagles from 1936 to 1948.)

When the Manleys started a Negro team in 1935, Effa assumed an active role as co-owner. According to Crawford:

She took over day-to-day business operations of the team, arranged playing schedules, planned the team’s travel, managed and met the payroll, bought the equipment, negotiated contracts, and handled publicity and promotions.”

Effa Manley along with Hall of Famer George “Mule” Suttles (1901-1966) of the Newark Eagles.

During World War II, Negro Leagues attendance was at an all-time high. But when Jackie Robinson, thanks to Branch Rickey, broke the color line in 1947, attendance at Negro League games plummeted. Crawford reports that Manley spoke out against the raiding of Negro Legaue teams without reparation, but to no avail.

The Manleys sold the team in 1947.

But Effa didn’t give up on baseball. She devoted her time to keeping the history of the Negro Leagues alive and lobbying for recognition of its top plaers by the Baseball Hall of Fame. She died in 1981. In an interview before her death, she talked about how happy it made her to reminisce about the days of the Negro Leagues: “People say, ‘Don’t live in the past. ’ But I guess it depends on how interesting your past is.”

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