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Meet the Only White Owner of a Negro League Baseball Team

J.L. Wilkinson, only white owner of a Negro League Baseball team

J.L. Wilkinson, born in 1878, was the only white man among the eight team owners in the first official Negro League. In fact, he actually created the very team he owned, The Kansas City Monarchs.
When asked why his grandfather chose to champion a Black baseball team, his grandson Ed Catron, replied, “He loved baseball and just wanted to put together the best team that he could possibly put together. He didn’t have the money to break into the major leagues, but he could break into Black baseball,” his grandson said during an interview with The Undefeated.

He moved his family to Kansas City with very little money, but a lot of big ideas. He actually hired a lot of players from the All Nations, a barnstorming professional baseball team that he himself once played for.

Was he a racist team owner who treated his players like slaves?

Not exactly. Buck O’Neil, who played for and later managed the Monarchs, said that when he got to know Wilkinson, he realized that he was in the company of a man without prejudice. He comments, “[He was] the first man I had ever known who was like that. I was from the South, mind you, so I was unaccustomed to meeting a white man who treated me the way he would his own son.”

To deal with the Jim Crow segregation laws of the time, he bought his team their very own tour bus and equipped it with sleeping accommodations and a kitchen. He also fitted his players with tailored suits and custom uniforms, and insisted on integrating the seating for fans at their home games.

Wilkinson was also the one who by saw potential in the late Jackie Robinson, and invited him to spring training. He later signed him to a baseball contract in 1945, but a year later, Robinson left the team to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Wilkinson owned the Kansas City Monarchs for 28 years from 1920 to 1948. Under his ownership and leadership, the team won 11 league titles and two World Series. In addition, 27 of Wilkinson's players went on to play in Major League Baseball. All of these accomplishments made his team the most successful Negro League baseball team of all time.

Sadly, on August 21, 1964, Wilkinson died in a nursing home in Kansas City. He was 86-years old.