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Manley, Effa (1900–1981)

Manley, Effa (1900–1981)

American co-owner of the Newark Eagles Negro League baseball team and civil-rights activist . Born Effa Brooks on March 27, 1900, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; died in Los Angeles, California, on April 16, 1981; daughter of Bertha Ford Brooks (a seamstress) and claimed to be daughter of John Marcus Bishop (a wealthy Philadelphia financier); married and divorced a man named Bush, sometime between 1916 and 1932; married Abraham L. Manley, on June 15, 1933 (died 1952); married Charles Alexander, in mid-1950s (divorced); no children.

When the subject arises of African-Americans playing baseball in the Negro Leagues of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, most Americans who know anything about it quickly recall such luminaries as Leroy "Satchel" Paige, Josh Gibson, James "Cool Papa" Bell, and Jackie Robinson. Some others more familiar with the history remember a second tier of stars, Oscar Charleston, Rube Foster, Judy Johnson, Martin Dihigo, Buck Leonard, Buck O'Neil, Max Manning, Turkey Stearnes, Hilton Smith, and Monte Irvin, to name a few. But rarely does the name Effa Manley come up, even though, as co-owner of the powerful Newark Eagles black baseball club, she exerted a major influence on the game during the 1930s and 1940s.

The circumstances surrounding Manley's genesis are somewhat cloudy. At the time of her birth in Philadelphia on March 27, 1900, her mother Bertha Ford Brooks , a white seamstress, was married to Benjamin Brooks, an African-American. Manley always claimed that her father had been John Marcus Bishop, a wealthy white financier for whom her mother worked, and she was thus an illegitimate child. Benjamin Brooks certainly thought so at the time: he sued Bishop for alienation of Bertha's affections and garnered a $10,000 settlement. Technically then, if these facts were exact, Effa was born Caucasian. On her marriage certificate in 1933, however, she listed Brooks as her father and declared herself as "colored." Perhaps she did so because she had adopted black culture as her own so thoroughly.

Effa grew up mainly in an African-American culture, as her mother had six other children sired by black fathers. "I was always this little blond, hazel-eyed, white girl, always with Negro children," she remembered. She played and mixed with African-American children and even when she became aware of the prejudice directed at blacks, she chose to remain in that culture. Manley's complexion, which was olive toned, allowed her to mix fairly easily with blacks. But she also used her light skin to work jobs in New York City usually denied to people of color, and she stayed in posh hotels that allowed blacks in only as employees. Indeed, she sometimes played it both ways, trapping people into believing she was white and then asserting her "colored" status.

Sometime after graduating from William Penn High School in 1916, Effa departed Philadelphia for New York, and also was married for a short time to a man named Bush whom she met at an Atlantic City resort. During the 1932 World Series, however, Effa met Abraham L. Manley, a "numbers" gambling kingpin who had recently moved into Harlem from the Philadelphia area. Abe, an African-American originally from North Carolina, had migrated northward and latched onto his profession sometime in the early 1920s. He was an avid baseball fan, particularly of Philadelphia's Hilldale squad. Effa was more of a fan of Babe Ruth than of baseball in general, but she was a fan, so when they met in New York, where both lived by 1932, there was at least one reason for mutual attraction. Before meeting Abe, she had been "interested in the thing that interests most women, I suppose, clothes. I spent quite a few years in the millinery business making hats, [and] had taken a little additional training in designing," Effa later recalled. Their courtship progressed throughout the rest of the year. Abe purchased a five-carat ring for her at Tiffany's in 1933, and on June 15 of that year, they married.

The marriage allowed Effa full entry into African-American high society of the day. She was able to outrun the cloudy circumstances of her birth. "I was a bastard and 75 years ago that was a terrible thing," she said. "I was not accepted into the better circles of Negro society until I met Abe." The couple hobnobbed with such performers as Eubie Blake and such sports celebrities as boxer Joe Louis. Manley could have luxuriated in her good fortune and lived a quasi-sybaritic life, but she felt a certain amount of noblesse oblige toward the downtrodden of her adopted race and used her position to work for the betterment of black people. In 1935, for example, in the midst of the worst economic depression the country had ever known, merchants in Harlem were declining to hire African-American clerks. Scandalized by such racial insensitivity, Manley, along with a Methodist Episcopal minister, John Johnson, organized the Citizens' League for Fair Play. Carrying signs that read "Don't shop where you can't work," the League picketed shops along 125th Street. The boycott worked. Six weeks later, the store owners had a change of heart. Manley's actions were not as momentous as would be those of Rosa Parks 20 years later in Montgomery, Alabama, but the tactics were the same. Within a year, perhaps as many as 300 black salespeople owed their new jobs in Harlem to the League's stand. Manley was also an officer of the Edgecombe Sanitarium Renaissance Committee (to save that Harlem medical institution) and the Children's Camp Committee of New York. She believed that African-Americans had great untapped potential. The black race "does not know its own strength," said Manley in 1936, "and when it begins to realize what really fine things the race is capable of doing it will show rapid progress."

But it was as co-owner of a franchise in Negro League baseball that Effa Manley gained renown. During the 1920s, thanks largely to the efforts of Rube Foster of Chicago, a Negro National League had offered some semblance of order to African-American players and fans whose previous fare of black baseball were barnstorming teams and tours. But in 1931, the Negro National League, minus Foster's leadership and losing fans because of the Depression, threw in the towel. Barnstorming resurfaced, but an organized league was sorely missing. Then in 1933, black "numbers" kings, such as Gus Greenlee of Pittsburgh and Abe Manley of Newark, put together a second Negro National League. Baseball historians generally credit Greenlee with this resurgence, because he built a black-owned stadium and talked the other "numbers" men into joining his venture. Effa Manley remembered the genesis differently. She admitted that Greenlee was important in 1933, but that he ran the league in "a permissive, selfdefeating, and entirely unorthodox manner." According to Manley, it was not until her husband Abe reorganized the league in 1935 that it took on an air of professionalism. Greenlee would remain as president and Abe would be the treasurer and run a team in Brooklyn.

Abe [Manley] stayed mostly in the background. … Effa ruled the roost.

—Max Manning

The Manleys kept up their end of the bargain by setting up a franchise, the Brooklyn Eagles, which would play in Ebbets Field under a lease arrangement with the Brooklyn Dodgers. As coowner, Effa swung into action, handling the business matters of the club, while Abe tended to recruitment. "I was surprised even myself with my rapid progress in absorbing the lesson so vital to the successful operation of a modern day baseball organization," she modestly marveled. She bought the team's equipment, scheduled their road trips and hotel accommodations, kept track of the corporation's payroll, and worked up the publicity for the game. Effa was justifiably proud of her accomplishments: "[I] succeeded in setting up a system of public relations that eventually made the Newark Eagles one of the most talkedabout teams in the country." For the opening game, she got New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia to throw out the first ball and numerous dignitaries to attend. But the opener was a disappointment. Only 2,000 or so fans showed up, and the Homestead Grays bombed the Eagles 21–7. Effa was furious. As first baseman George Giles recalled, "Mrs. Manley left. When she was displeased, the world came to an end. … Mrs. Manley didn't like a loser." Later that first season, she appointed Giles manager. But the team had a losing season, and despite coverage in the African-American newspapers, the Manleys decided to move the franchise to a more profitable location. Abe could continue to bankroll a club with his "numbers" money, but even that was not limitless, and competition with the Brooklyn Dodgers, even as a second-division club, was severe.

The Manleys decided on Newark and bought the Newark Dodgers, a black semi-pro team. Along with the purchase came the contract of Ray Dandridge, a young third baseman who would go on to have a Hall of Fame career. In 1936, the club officially became the Newark Eagles and set up a lease agreement with Ruppert Stadium, a New York Yankees property. Controversy immediately arose over control of bookings of exhibition games, because Abe did not want those games to cut into the Negro National League season. The agents retaliated by leaving the Eagles off the schedule for the profitable Sunday and holiday games in the major cities. Effa supported Abe publicly, blaming the booking agents for the Eagles' unprofitability and even later making a "fiery speech" against booking agent percentage cuts. But privately she disagreed with Abe, because she saw accurately that the exhibition games were often more lucrative than the regular Negro League games.

The Newark Eagles were never the most famous Negro League baseball team during their time—certainly the Kansas City Monarchs or Homestead Grays or Pittsburgh Crawfords held that honor—but the Manleys put together a rather respectable team. By 1937, the roster included the "Million Dollar" infield of Dandridge, "Mule" Suttles, Willie Wells, and Dick Seay, as well as the great pitcher Leon Day. Eventually, Abe recruited Larry Doby and Monte Irvin (albeit under other names to protect their amateur status). The Manleys also came close to landing the legendary Satchel Paige in 1938 and 1939, but he opted to pitch in Mexico and for his own traveling All-Stars team instead. Rumor had it that Satchel had asked Effa to be his girlfriend, but she had demurred. With or without Paige, the team was very popular in Newark. According to pitcher Max Manning, another important later addition, "The Eagles were to [black] Newark what the Dodgers were to Brooklyn." In 1941, the Manleys felt comfortable enough with the city to move from Harlem. Before World War II, the Eagles usually trailed the powerhouse Homestead Grays, but in 1946 the team won the league pennant and Negro League World Series with exciting victories over the Kansas City Monarchs.

As co-owner of the Eagles, Manley used the baseball games to promote civil-rights causes. The 1930s were witnessing an increase in lynching as whites unleashed their economic frustrations and racist anxieties against blacks. During this time, Effa was treasurer of the New Jersey chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Determined to do something to raise consciousness and help deter lynching, she organized a "Stop Lynching" day at Newark's Ruppert Stadium. Wearing "Stop Lynching" sashes, the ushers went up and down the aisles collecting money for the benefit. Donn Rogosin, a historian of black baseball, later called it "probably the most remarkable special day in Negro baseball history." Manley also focused on spreading the proud message of baseball to kids, allowing the Knothole Gang free admission and sponsoring a youth team, the Newark Cubs.

World War II brought out her patriotism as well as a special pride in the 54 Negro Leaguers who volunteered to fight. Once she invited the entire 372nd regiment, an elite African-American unit of possibly as many as 2,500 men, to attend an Eagles game as her guests. She made sure that the soldiers at Fort Dix had entertainment, paying for a bus to transport performers there. Manley helped out with the NAACP's Crusade for Liberty, and at one point pinned a campaign button on Newark's deputy mayor. She also helped the federal government, as a member of the gas-rationing committee that decided on special exemptions for hardship cases. There is no indication that these were ploys to increase game attendance, but more likely examples of her sincere patriotism.

Effa did not play second fiddle to Abe in their business dealings with the Eagles or the Negro National League. Abe was nominally the league treasurer, but Effa seems to have handled the transactions. She had had no formal training in business administration, and women executives in any American business were scarce. But once in the co-owner position, her natural talents rose to the fore. The other owners may have chafed at this, but they did respect her financial abilities and strength. As Grays owner Cumberland Posey said, "Negro baseball owners can take a few tips from the lady member of the league when it comes to advertising." For example, she probably stopped the players from a threatened boycott of an East-West All-Star game by declaring flatly that no Newark Eagle was going to strike. Still the owners groused about taking any advice from a woman, despite her marriage to one of their peers. Dan Burley, sports editor for the Amsterdam, New York, Star-News noted, "Effa Manley has long been a sore spot in the N.N.L. setup … the rough and tumble gentlemen comprising its inner sanctum have complained often and loudly that 'baseball ain't no place for no woman.'" Similarly, a few of the Eagles staff may have resented her moves with the team as meddling. Certainly two of the managers, Willie Wells and Biz Mackey, thought she was too controlling of them. One story had it that Wells took a beaning one day, hit on the head by a pitch while he was trying to figure out a sign from Effa in the stands.

In many ways, however, the Manleys looked out for the well-being of their squad. Some players remembered them as tightwads, but Effa always claimed that she went a long way to promote the careers of her athletes. As early as 1935, she was instrumental in securing wintertime employment for some of her players on a ball team in Puerto Rico. The team won the winter league championship, and helped to open Latin America for more Negro Leaguers. She remembered it as "one of my most pleasant experiences in baseball," and the players appreciated the chance to earn sometimes double what the Manleys were able to pay. If a player, such as first baseman George Giles, needed some publicity, Effa made sure the press was attentive. If other players needed some financial assistance, as Monte Irvin did for a down payment on a house and Lenny Pearson did for financing a tavern, the Manleys pitched in. Occasionally, the aid would turn comical or backfire, as when Effa instructed the manager to put in Terris McDuffie, her favorite pitcher, so the crowd could see how good-looking he was. But more often than not, her heart and head were in the right place.

Many of the Newark Eagles understood that Manley's kindhearted qualities only went so far and that she was a hard-headed disciplinarian. Occasionally, she would chew out a player for sloppy attire or slackness. Pitcher James Walker reminisced, "She would call you in and tell you how to dress, what to do, who to associate with. When you had your problems, if they were personal, you went to Mrs. Manley, and she was very understanding, as long as you toed the line." She was a tough negotiator with the early contracts, and occasionally intercepted and held onto mail from female fans so the players would stay relatively intent on the games. As Max Manning remembered, "Abe mostly stayed in the background. … Effa ruled the roost." Some players tried to hide from her, if they thought she had a grudge against them. Johnny Davis, an outfielder and pitcher, recalled keeping to the back of the room in team meetings to stay out of her disfavor. But Davis also reckoned that her sternness added a needed measure of pride and fear that gave backbone to the club. "When I first started playing baseball, you needed drugs to stay awake!" he recalled. "But we never thought about drugs or anything. We were Mrs. Manley's boys."

Although the Eagles won the championship in 1946, the major changes in Negro League and Major League baseball already underway would undercut their glory. In 1945, Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, had signed Jackie Robinson, a shortstop for the Monarchs, to a minor league contract. In 1946, Robinson played brilliantly for the Montreal Royals, and Rickey began signing other Negro Leaguers. At first, Effa cheered these developments as evidence of racial progress. Indeed, she was a member of the Citizens Committee to Get Negroes into the Big Leagues, and around 1943 had urged some sort of plan to make the Negro Leagues a farm system for the white majors. But as Rickey's aggressive posture mounted, she reached a different opinion. She complained about his recruiting tactics and privately claimed that he had "raped" the Negro Leagues.

Manley did manage to secure compensation for trading Larry Doby in 1947. When Bill Veeck, the aggressive owner of the Cleveland Indians, approached her about getting Doby, he offered $10,000. Manley, who had already indicated that she would not stand in Doby's way, chastised Veeck, "Mr. Veeck, you know if Larry Doby were white and a free agent, you'd give him $10,000 to sign with you merely as a bonus." Veeck, who had for several years been in favor of blacks breaking into the majors, agreed to pay the Manleys another $5,000 if Doby stayed with the Indians' organization past 30 days. Of course, Doby did that and more, helping the Indians to a World Series championship in 1948 and eventually hitting 253 home runs and driving in nearly 1,000 runs in a 13-year career with Cleveland and the Chicago White Sox. Effa claimed that the compensation paid by Veeck established a precedent; after that, Major League owners usually paid about $5,000 per player when they recruited a Negro Leaguer.

Receiving an occasional fee for a recruited player, however, was not enough to keep the Eagles franchise profitable. Like several other Negro League teams, the Newark club was feeling the financial pinch of losing black fans. In 1947, the Eagles suffered a loss of $22,000. By 1948, the Manleys had probably lost a total of $100,000. They sold the franchise for $15,000 to a consortium headed by Dr. W.H. Young, an African-American dentist in Memphis, who agreed to own the contracts of the players. This maneuver immediately created an incident in which Effa again displayed her tenacity and business acumen. Hearing that the Manleys had sold the club, Rickey approached star outfielder Monte Irvin about signing a contract with the Dodgers' St. Paul farm team. Manley intervened, and Rickey suspended the deal. Then the African-American press blasted her for ruining Irvin's chances with the majors. Effa turned around and eventually secured a deal for him with the New York Giants. The Giants paid her $5,000, which Manley considered minuscule for such a talented player as Monte, who went on to the Hall of Fame after contributing mightily to two Giant pennants and a World Series championship. Grumbling, Effa took the money, paid the attorney, and purchased a mink cape with her share. She kept the cape as a memento of the deal, but always thought Horace Stoneham, the Giants' owner, had gotten the far better deal.

In 1948, Manley squared off with none other than Jackie Robinson over the quality of Negro League baseball. Robinson had become legendary overnight in 1947 as the first African-American player to play in the Major Leagues in the 20th century (although undoubtedly some light-skinned blacks or Latinos "passed" as white and played before Robinson broke the color barrier). Many African-Americans and whites revered him for his perseverance. But in a 1948 article in Ebony, titled "What's Wrong with Negro Baseball?," Robinson attacked the Negro Leagues and their owners. Low salaries, lousy umpiring, and the shady business dealings of some of the owners hurt the leagues, he maintained. He also accused the owners of ignoring the welfare of their players by not providing them with better traveling and living conditions. Whether Robinson was speaking his own mind or voicing what some white executives such as Branch Rickey and owners in the Major Leagues believed is unclear, but Effa found his remarks unfair and damaging.

In an article in the August 1948 Our World, she took on Robinson's assertions. Negro League ballplayers made a handsome wage, she declared, pointing out that the $100 per week they earned on average was over twice as much as the typical American worker was making. She did not address the umpiring and business connections directly, but she reminded Robinson, who should have known very well, that Jim Crow segregation laws accounted for the substandard hotels and buses that marked Negro League life. "Until Congress makes statutory changes about race prejudice in hotels, I'm afraid there's very little that we can do to better such accommodation," she wrote. Then she went beyond Robinson's gripes and lambasted the Major Leagues for raiding players with no compensation to the Negro Leagues. African-American fans who cheered the black players in the Major Leagues were being naive, in her opinion. "Gullible Negro fans who think white owners take on colored players through any altruistic pangs of democracy had better quit kidding themselves," she warned. "There's a potential of two million Negro fans to draw from." The losers would be the Negro League teams, who had become, in the eyes of the sports press, black and white, "the step-child of American sport." The other Negro League owners appreciated her efforts, although they themselves remained relatively silent. Some writers from the African-American press responded forcefully. John Johnson, of the Kansas City Call, chided her for standing in the way of what he called progress and urged black fans to see baseball as colorblind. He also suggested that Effa was exercising her pet grievances against Branch Rickey and the black press in general. But as Effa stepped away from baseball, her departure drew some laments. Black newspaper columnist Wendell Smith forgave her occasional use of tears to get her way at meetings and declared, "The boys in the press box are gonna' miss her—tears and all!"

For the Negro Leagues, Manley's comments were accurate and sadly prophetic. The Newark Eagles collapsed in 1948. The Negro National League crumbled that same year. The Negro American League lost six teams and lurched along, with only four teams by 1953, all the way to its ultimate demise in 1960. Players who were not good enough for, or too old to make, the majors and those who were competent enough but were the victims of glacial progress on the integration front, found themselves with no baseball career or shrinking opportunities. Younger players both good and great such as Henry Aaron, Ernie Banks, and Willie Mays were able to latch on with the Major Leagues, but for the generation preceding them, the death knell of the Negro Leagues was disastrous. Effa Manley, by then no longer in an ownership position and unable to help the players, could only watch the slow fade.

In 1952, Abe Manley died. Effa moved back to Philadelphia to be near her family in 1955, but soon moved to Los Angeles, hoping to bring them along. Still only in her 50s, she married a musician named Charles Alexander, an old boyfriend, although the marriage lasted only a year. For the most part, she stayed away from baseball, still maintaining a grudge against the Dodgers, who under Rickey had helped demolish her Newark team. Several show-business friends from the East had moved to California and Effa socialized with them, easing her later years. Her health had deteriorated by 1980, and she moved into a rest home operated by former Negro League catcher Quincy Trouppe. In the spring of 1981 she contracted colon cancer and peritonitis, and died of a heart attack on April 16.

In her later years, however, Manley made many spirited efforts to remind people of the glory of the Negro Leagues. In 1976, with sportswriter Leon Hartwick, she co-authored a book, Negro Baseball … Before Integration, to try to set the record straight. She also granted several interviews to oral historians and graduate students. Although she disliked the Dodgers (who had long since abandoned Brooklyn for Los Angeles), she kept pressuring the team's management to recognize Negro Leaguers at the games. She peppered The Sporting News and the National Baseball Hall of Fame with letters advocating enshrinement of many Negro Leaguers. Even after the Hall of Fame admitted 11 Negro League players, she pressed for more, or at least for a significant exhibit noting the accomplishments of those not honored individually. The Hall did not act on her recommendation until four years after her death.

In 1985, the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, unveiled a new exhibit on Negro League baseball. The display prominently featured Effa Manley. But three years later, when the Hall of Fame developed an exhibit on women in baseball, the curators neglected to place Manley in the case, supposedly because it would duplicate her previous recognition. Never mind that plenty of male players, owners, and managers had appeared in more than one exhibit in the Hall. Although in the 1990s there was a resurgence of popular and historical interest in women and baseball due to the 1992 movie A League of Their Own, that renewed attention by and large ignored African-American women and baseball, particularly the contributions of Effa Manley. The full-scale biography of Manley by James Overmyer, published in 1993, might go a long way toward reversing this neglect by baseball historians. But Manley's life encompassed more than her baseball endeavors: she occupied a unique place as an African-American entrepreneur and a cultural and political activist.

sources:

Berlage, Gai Ingham. "Effa Manley, A Major Force in Negro Baseball in the 1930s and 1940s," in NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Social Policy Perspectives. Spring 1993, pp. 163–184.

Dixon, Phil, with Patrick J. Hannigan. The Negro Baseball Leagues, a Photographic History. Mattituck, NY: Amereon House, 1992.

Manley, Effa. "Negro Baseball Isn't Dead! But It Is Pretty Sick," in Our World. August 1948, pp. 27–29.

——, and Leon Hardwick. Negro Baseball … Before Integration. Chicago, IL: Adam Press, 1976.

Overmyer, James. Effa Manley and the Newark Eagles. Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, 1993.

Rogosin, William Donn. Invisible Men: Life in the Negro Baseball Leagues. NY: Atheneum, 1987.

related media:

Only the Ball Was White (video). Chicago: WTTW/Chicago, 1992.

Thomas L. Altherr , Professor of History and American Studies at Metropolitan State College of Denver, Denver, Colorado

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