By Matthew Delmont, Associate Professor of History at Arizona State University
On March 13, 1954, the Cleveland Call and Post noted that the Indianapolis Clowns, a Negro League baseball team, signed Connie Morgan. Morgan, a 19-year-old from Philadelphia, became one of three women to play in the Negro Leagues.
In addition to adding Morgan, the Clowns signed Mamie "Peanut" Johnson and moved Toni Stone, who debuted with the Clowns in 1953, to the Kansas City Monarchs.
Jackie Robinson integrated Major League Baseball in 1947 and as more black stars left the Negro Leagues, team executives like Clowns owner Syd Pollock looked for ways to keep fans coming to the ballpark.
The black press saw Connie Morgan, Toni Stone, and Mamie Johnson both as box office draws and talented players. This Call and Post article notes that Morgan was personally scouted by Clown's Manager, Oscar Charleston (a legendary center fielder who was later inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame), who said that "her throws across the diamond rank on par with many major leaguers." This article also described that this "New Female Star" was an experienced ballplayer: "Connie Morgan is slated to perform at second base for the Clowns, although she played with the North Philadelphia ‘Honey Drippers’ for 5 seasons as a catcher. She also has played in several other position at one time or another. While playing with the ‘Honey Drippers,’ she compiled a batting average of .338."
In addition to her baseball prowess, Morgan was also skilled at basketball and played competitively for women's teams in Philadelphia. When the Baltimore Afro-American ran this story, the paper showed a picture Morgan in her baseball uniform next to a picture of her in a trim white dress and gloves. The caption, "Miss Connie Morgan: The baseball player and the lady," speaks to the demands for athleticism and femininity that met these baseball pioneers and continue to be part of women's sports.
Still, most of the news coverage Morgan received during the season was for her playing ability. On May 19, 1954, the Afro-American reported that Morgan "electrified over 6,000 fans...when she went far to her right to make a sensational stop, flipped to shortstop Bill Holder and started a lightning doubleplay against the Birmingham Barons." When the Clowns and Monarchs travelled to play a double header at Yankee Stadium, the New York Amsterdam News praised Morgan, Stone, and Johnson: "The girls take a back seat to no one on the field."
Connie Morgan was mentioned dozens of times in the black press and the Philadelphia Tribune, her hometown paper, paid special attention to her year in the Negro Leagues. The first Tribune article on Morgan was titled "Hometown Miss to Replace Toni Stone at Second Base" and noted that she "graduated from John Bartram High in Philadelphia, and is currently attending William Penn Business School."
On July 24, 1954, the Tribune noted Morgan's first game in Philadelphia (the Clowns swept a doubleheader against the Monarchs at Connie Mack Stadium) and ran a picture of Morgan with some of her William Penn Business Institute classmates. After her first and only season in the Negro Leagues, the Norfolk Journal and Guide reported that Morgan "switched from bats to books" and resumed her accounting courses at William Penn.
Connie Morgan is one of the interesting and little-known figures in African-American history that I have written about as part of my digital history project, “Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers.” Each day this project features historical articles from black newspapers such as the Baltimore Afro-American, Cleveland Call and Post, New York Amsterdam News, Norfolk Journal and Guide, and Philadelphia Tribune that are digitized as part of the ProQuest Black Newspapers collection. Black Quotidian aims to bring African-American history and black newspapers to news audiences in new ways.