What The Black Spudders Risked To Play Baseball In Segregated Texas

Jan 23, 2020

From Texas Standard:

It's easy to find historical information about the Wichita Falls Spudders baseball club. All sorts of trivia can be found online about the minor league team that formed in 1920 and disbanded in 1957. But the Spudders had a black counterpart, the Black Spudders, and information about them is scarce.

That motivated Margie Reese, executive director of the Wichita Falls Alliance for Arts and Culture, to look into the team's forgotten history. A new exhibit on the Black Spudders at the Museum of North Texas History in Wichita Falls is the culmination of that investigation.

Reese says that the Black Spudders played in the 1920s, mostly in Texas, and the name "Spudder" is a reference to oil drilling – a prominent industry in North Texas. A spudder is someone who operates well-drilling machine.

Reese says the Black Spudders were a precursor to official Negro League teams in Texas. They competed in an era when segregation was a regular part of daily life, which was a problem especially when they had to travel to games. Reese says she heard chilling stories about the consequences of racism when she was doing her research for the exhibit. One former player told her about seeing black men hanging from trees on the drive to a game in the Dallas area.

"They feared for their lives," she says. "They couldn't stop at restaurants, they couldn't stop for gas, their cars couldn't break down."

Reese says it was clear after doing her research how conflicted the men felt: baseball brought them joy, but they also had to endure the horrors of racism in order to share that joy with others.

But their perseverance is what struck her most. They maintained a focus on baseball despite what was going on around them. She says that's an example our country can follow today.

"How do we look at the black and whiteness of who we are and still manage to come together and celebrate the things that are important to us as a democratic society?" Reese says.

Written by Caroline Covington.