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The White Baseball Team Fought for Equality Before Jackie Robinson Hit the Majors

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
June 1, 2023 3:02 am

The White Baseball Team Fought for Equality Before Jackie Robinson Hit the Majors

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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June 1, 2023 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Chris Soriano tells the story of a baseball team formed out of a religious commune in Benton Harbor, Michigan. The long-haired men played anywhere and with anybody, including those who had been excluded from major league venues because of the color of their skin.

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Exclusions apply. This is our American Stories, and one of the things we've come to love is our stories about American history. At the turn of the century, baseball was by far the most popular sport in America. And almost everyone was participating in it, including a religious colony in Benton Harbor, Michigan, founded by an eccentric man named Ben Purnell called the House of David. Here's our own Monty Montgomery with the story of a baseball team of outcasts that took America by storm. Music Growing up in Berrien County, Michigan, I always knew of the House of David's existence, mostly due to the curiosity they brought. But what I didn't know was that they actually made a massive impact on the country outside of Benton Harbor. And one of the ways they did that was in baseball, started as a way to deal with teenage boys and their religious belief as a colony in celibacy. Here's Chris Siriano, founder of the House of David Museum in St. Joe, Michigan, with more on that story.

The House of David baseball team was started because Benjamin loved baseball. And in 1914, they had been going for 11 years by then, right? They have a lot of teenage boys with a whole lot of pent up energy and they can't be with the opposite sex. No way, no how.

They need something to do to get rid of this energy. So he thought, let's play some baseball. They played all the local teams and they were good. But they weren't great yet until they managed to bring in professional players from major league teams like the Cubs. It all started with Paul Mooney. He was a superstar pitcher, long black hair, super, super talented. And he was recruited by the Cubs early on in the in the mid teens. And he considered playing for the Cubs, but he wouldn't cut his hair or shave.

And it wasn't that was the rule. The major leagues, Major League Baseball required people to be clean shaven back then. And the House of David, by the mid 1920s, they were considered world talents in baseball. They could beat semi pros. They could beat the major league teams if they had an opening and they would play them. And they did on many, many, many occasions.

They could beat the major league people. And they thought, you know what, we want to be a part of that. And they tried to join and they were denied because they wouldn't cut their whiskers off and cut their hair. And they absolutely would not do that because their belief was that man should be in the likeness of Jesus.

And they didn't believe they could ever, ever shave. And they wouldn't for just to be able to play baseball. So they barnstormed. Barnstorming was a team that just takes off and travels the country. They'll play college teams, semi pro teams, farm teams, major league teams. They'll play anybody and everybody. They'll play in your stadium or they'll play in your cow pasture.

They didn't care. If you want to play baseball, let's go. That's what barnstorming was.

They're storming the country. They're playing in farms, barns, anywhere. So when they were playing baseball, they had a good time. They and they invented that what they call the pepper game, which was worth three guys during a fifth inning stretch. Three guys would stand across from each other and throw the ball so fast between their legs, around their neck, behind their back. They juggle it. And all of a sudden the ball would disappear and the crowd would go silent during all that cheering that they were watching. They'd go totally silent, wondering where the ball was. And then the house, one of the House of David guys would pull his big beard up and he'd have it stuck underneath his beard and the crowd would roar.

And it was good stuff. And so they mixed comedy with their talent and could beat you while they made you laugh, basically. But rejected from the MLB because of their differences, the House of David instead played with others who had been rejected because of their own. That's one of the coolest stories that there is, in my opinion, is the fact that here's these long haired, whiskered white guys from Benton Harbor, Michigan, mastering baseball across the country. And during a time when they couldn't join the major leagues because they wouldn't shave, the Negro teams formed their own leagues because they couldn't join the major leagues because they were black. And so those Negro league teams invited the House of David to be a part of them, which is a beautiful thing. A beautiful thing because of their popularity helped lay the foundations of equality for black baseball teams years before black Americans would be allowed to play in the MLB. And they teamed up with and Lloyd told the story the best.

Lloyd, as in one of the House of David's baseball enforcers. He told the story about how they would travel to a town where they would on a Saturday and they'd have a doubleheader scheduled. And this town was known for baseball wherever it was across America. And he said, Chris, we would travel our team, our White House of David team in one bus and we'd have the Negro team in another bus. And within 50 miles of the main town, every little town was closed.

Nobody was around. It was like shut them down like ghost town. We got to the place where we were playing ball. It was like a ginormous festival going on, people in the streets and music and thousands of people everywhere waiting for this game to happen. And he said we'd show up early, very early, and we'd put on a show. And here we are.

We know we're the draw. We're the reason those people are coming to that town that day is to watch the House of David play. So he said we would make them laugh. We would stand in front of the barbershop windows with our long hair and wave it around and play music and braid our whiskers in front of the barbershop and dance in the streets. And they were all musicians, too.

So they would play music in their fiddles and their banjos and sing and just get the whole town really energized. And he said we'd go early, very early, to the manager's office at the stadium where we were playing. And he said it was himself and his father, Hans Daliger, who was a driver for the team, but he also wore a uniform. And Frank Weiland, who was a professional boxer and wore a uniform, but mainly a bodyguard for the team, but he looked like a player, big guy. And he said, Chris, we'd walk in.

Now these are scrappy looking guys, a lot of whiskers, a lot of long hair, big wool uniforms, probably dirt all over them from playing so many days with no shower or laundry. And we'd stand in this manager's baseball office and say, Mr. Manager, you know, we're so happy to be here. We're so excited that your town is just packed full of people. And we're going to make you proud today that we came to your town.

But, sir, here's one thing. Before you play us at the 11 o'clock game this morning, you're going to play the Kansas City Monarchs or the Homestead Grays or the Negro team that's on our other bus. Right outside of your town and they're waiting to play. And you have to make that work because you've never even allowed them in your stadium before today. And not only that, but after the game, we're going to play you the second game. And then tonight we're going to both teams are going to eat in the restaurants that you didn't allow them to go in. And we've rented rooms for both teams at the hotel that they've never have been able to stay at before. And here's the deal, sir.

If you can't get that approved, if we can't make that happen, that's OK. Because right past your town, there's another town sitting on raincheck, excited that we might be there to play their team today. So if you can't do that, it's OK. We'll just go on. And he said, Chris, it was total silence in that room or a clipboard would fly or the guy would slam his desk. But he said every time.

Guess what? They would say something to the effect of, OK, House of David, they'd come back in the room and we'll agree to what you want today. We'll do this.

But don't you ever expect to come back to this town again after today. And they say, you know, he said, we'd stand at attention. We say thank you.

Thank you, sir. We'll make you proud. And he said, guess what? When those Negro teams hit the field, they were unbelievable. They were so talented, so funny.

They love to make people laugh, just like the House of David and more. And there was standing ovations the whole game. And he said, by the time we got up there, it was like the Fourth of July. Those people were so pumped up, they would lighten off fireworks during fifth inning stretch.

It was amazing. He said, when we went to the restaurants, we left big tips for both teams. And in the hotel, they treated us like kings.

And guess what? The next year, we both got invited back. And we did that town after town after town across America long before Jackie Robinson hit the majors. A special thanks to Chris Soriano, curator of the House of David Museum. Also, the founder. And my goodness, it sounds a lot like what the Harlem Globetrotters are doing with basketball, barnstorming the country, challenging guys to play.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-06-01 04:40:48 / 2023-06-01 04:46:18 / 6

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