Bostic, Joe 1908-1988
BOSTIC, Joe 1908-1988
PERSONAL: Born March 21, 1908, in Mt. Holly, NJ; died of heart disease May 29, 1988, in Long Island, NY; son of Lawrence and Lillian (Eldridge) Bostic; married Dorothy Mitchell (a teacher), 1930; children: Joe, Jr., Lee, Debra. Education: Morgan State College (later University), graduated 1932; attended Columbia University.
CAREER: Sports announcer, and journalist. WCBM, Baltimore, MD, gospel music broadcaster, 1932; Baltimore Afro-American, Baltimore, correspondent; People's Voice, New York, NY, sports editor, and entertainment columnist, 1942-45; New York Amsterdam News, New York, NY, columnist and sportswriter; Madison Square Garden, New York, NY, boxing announcer; announcer for various other sports events and for television broadcasts. Worked as a stevedore, a theatrical promoter, and as host of Gospel Train for WLIB, New York, NY. Junior Academy, Brooklyn, NY, cofounder, 1965; organized National Negro Sportswriters Association.
Newspaper columns included "Weekly Salute," "Man about Harlem," and "Scoreboard."
SIDELIGHTS: Joe Bostic was an African-American sports journalist who in the mid-twentieth century fiercely fought for the inclusion and advancement of blacks in sports, particularly in baseball and as announcers. Bostic's parents encouraged his education, and he had an advantage most young blacks did not have in the 1930s: a college diploma. A top athlete who won two boxing championships while in high school and played varsity baseball in college, Bostic helped finance his college education by boxing under another name so as not to disappoint his father. Out of respect for his parents, Bostic majored in journalism, and rather than following his dream of becoming an athlete he turned to writing about and announcing sports events.
Bostic's first job was as an announcer for a gospel-music program in Baltimore. He was the first black announcer at the station and perhaps in the Baltimore area. He also worked for the Baltimore Afro-American, a premier black newspaper. Bostic, his wife, and their three children moved to New York City, where racism was less prevalent than in Baltimore and where the educated couple might find more opportunities. He studied at Columbia University and worked the third shift as a stevedore on the New Jersey docks. He was able to attend games during the day at the Dyckman Oval, where many of the Negro League games were played. During one, the announcer became ill and left the booth, whereupon Bostic stepped in and called the remainder of the game. Impressed by the young man's initiative and ability, the team owner offered him a permanent position.
Bostic broke the "color" barrier in job after job. When the Rockland Palace opened in Harlem, the owners were intent on hiring a white announcer until Bostic pointed out the advantage of having someone from the black community announce the matches. In an interview, Bostic once recalled that he had to pass muster with the mob bosses and Tammany Hall before being allowed to have a license to announce boxing in New York. At about the same time, the Negro National League asked Bostic to announce their games at Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds, where such events often drew larger crowds than did the white home teams of those parks. He also announced the major Negro League event of the season for four years, the annual East-West All-Star Classic, held in Chicago.
Bostic is remembered for his militant third-person articles published in the People's Voice newspaper in New York. The periodical, owned by black politician Adam Clayton Powell, became Bostic's vehicle for demanding racial equality and lambasting those who oppressed blacks in general and blackballed players in particular. He was unafraid of the racist establishment and wrote of the timidity of other journalists who lacked the courage to address the subject. Bostic was fearless and eloquent in attacking whites who conspired to disenfranchise blacks, and he never covered major league baseball or all-white sports.
He did recognize white people who supported racial equality, including Catholic priest Father Campion, whom Bostic interviewed. On the issue of integrating the major league teams, Bostic was hesitant. He felt that by dissolving the Negro Leagues, black businesses that had served those teams would suffer, as would the black umpires, announcers, and scorekeepers who worked the games. He also doubted that the quality of major-league baseball was any better than that being played in the Negro Leagues and further threw out the idea of creating all-black teams within the two major leagues, an idea that actually was supported by more people than Bostic realized. In 1944 Bostic spoke out when White House staffer Stephen Early accepted a lifetime pass from Clark Griffith, owner of the Washington Senators and an opponent of integration. After racist baseball commissioner Judge Landis died, Bostic requested meetings with National League president Ford Frick and American League president William Harridge, asking them for statements officially opposing segregated baseball. He often found encountered difficulties dealing with the owners of the Negro League teams who hired white support staff. With the exception of Effa Manley of the Newark Eagles, the League owners hired the all-white Elias Sports Bureau to fill the position of League statistician, which Wendell Smith, who had developed the position, had offered to fill it for free. Bostic officially endorsed Smith for the position in print and felt the decision by the black owners would be seen as advancing the idea of black inferiority.
Kelly E. Rusinack wrote in the Dictionary of Literary Biography that "Bostic's most glorious moment as a sports journalist, though, was a story of his own making. In April, 1945, on the heels of the passage of the Ives-Quinn antidiscrimination bill in New York, he teamed up with Nat Low of the Daily Worker to take Dave 'Showboat' Thomas and Terris McDuffie, two Negro League ballplayers, to the Dodgers training camp at Bear Mountain for tryouts. Branch Rickey [general manager] was furious at having been blind-sided, but Bostic was unflappable. He detailed their two-day stay at the facility on his sports page, counting it as a victory, though he knew it had not tangibly changed anything." Bostic did not hesitate to criticize black teams, notably the Black Yankees, who in 1944 he noted were lacking in talent. He demanded that blacks hold themselves to high standards and spoke out against portraying players as having more importance to the game than Bostic felt they actually did. In particular he wrote an article condemning Satchel Paige's high demands and the promoters' place in inflating Paige's actual drawing power.
In addition to his sports columns, Bostic also wrote an entertainment column in which he provided translations of letters written in jive, a gossip column, his "Man about Harlem," and a radio column which increased the popularity of his own radio shows. He left the People's Voice for a position with the New York Amsterdam News in 1945, just as Jackie Robinson was about to sign a minor-league contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers. At the end of Robinson's first major-league season in 1947, Bostic acknowledged Rickey's bravery in hiring Robinson, while not letting him off the hook for past affronts. In his "Scoreboard" column, Bostic wrote, in his third-person style, "But, it took plenty of guts to face the ridicule on one hand and snide insinuations on the other, that he had violated a sacred 'agreement' that was in the form of an understanding. … Therefore, 'Scoreboard' makes this specific recommendation: That the sports fans and a comprehensive citizens' committee give him the most impressive inter-racial testimonial dinner that this town ever saw … to pay a deserved tribute to a man, who, in our estimation, has struck the most important and significant blow for sports democracy in the past twenty years."
Bostic also paid tribute to the great Babe Ruth on the night Ruth died in 1947, while Bostic was announcing his first boxing match at the Queensboro Arena. The owners of the arena had hired him on the recommendation of a friend, and Bostic wasn't sure the job would remain his once they learned that he was black. But after receiving a standing ovation in response to his pregame eulogy, the job was his.
Bostic's acceptance of an offer to announce wrestling matches at Ridgewood Grove proved to be a good career move when the lowly sport became a popular televised event. He continued announcing for years, at other locations that included Sunnyside Gardens, White Plains Arena, the Old Broadway, and St. Nick's Arena. When the prestigious position at Madison Square Garden became available, Bostic put in his bid against the most notable white announcers of the time. The Garden, which had never used a nonwhite announcer, chose Bostic, the first black to serve in that spot. He also became the first black to be admitted to the Boxing Writers Association and the Track Writers Association. He organized the National Negro Sportswriters Association and opened doors for the black press, including those to the press boxes in Madison Square Garden.
Bostic's wife, Dorothy, was well known for her work as an educator, and together they cofounded the Junior Academy in Brooklyn, a private educational institution for young blacks. They both died in 1988, Dorothy just two months after her husband. His obituary in the New York Amsterdam News read, in part that "Joe Bostic was one of the most respected and at the same time, one of the most feared Black journalists of the '40s. Feared by those who practiced racism."
Rusinack wrote that Bostic "proved time and again in his sportswriting that he was a man of integrity, not afraid to take a stand, to admit publicly when he was wrong, and to admit publicly when he was right. His forthrightness and tenacity stood in marked contrast to most other newspapermen of his time, black and white, who did not take strong stands unless it was in support of the popular argument and who were afraid to hold opinions that might offend the social elite." Bostic was relatively unknown at the time of his death, but his achievements have been recorded in a number of volumes which preserve his contributions to sports and sports journalism, and his continuous effort to advance opportunities for blacks in both.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Cosgrove, Benedict, Covering the Bases: The Most Unforgettable Moments in Baseball in the Words of the Writers and Broadcasters Who Were There, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 1997.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 241: American Sportswriters and Writers on Sport, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001.
Reisler, Jim, editor, Black Writers/Black Baseball: An Anthology of Articles from Black Sportswriters Who Covered the Negro Leagues, McFarland (Jefferson, NC), 1994, pp. 75-76.
Black Sports, March 2, 1977, pp. 40-46.
New York Amsterdam News, November 19, 1994, Howie Evans, "Negro League celebration Needs lessons in History," p. 56; December 2, 1995, Howie Evans, "Seventh-fifth Anniversary of Negro Baseball League Celebration Slated," p. 48.
San Diego Union-Tribune, December 6, 1991, John Freeman, "History Show Offers Great Histrionics," p. D6.
Newsday, June 1, 1988, Dick Zander, "Joe Bostic, Sports Journalist Who Broke Racial Barriers," p. 41.
New York Amsterdam News, June 4, 1988.*