John Kennedy

This article was written by Michael Marsh

John Kennedy (PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES)John Kennedy listed two goals when he completed a questionnaire for statistician William J. Weiss in 1951: “To become a major leaguer & one of the greatest.” Kennedy completed his first goal. He earned a roster spot as a shortstop for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1957, becoming the first African American member of the team. He did not have a chance to attain the second. The Phillies used him in only five games and sent him to the minor leagues only a month after the start of the season. Kennedy’s stay with the team resulted in a controversial cup of coffee. He never returned to the major leagues, yet he retains a place in baseball history.

Johnnie Irvin Kennedy, Jr. was born on October 12, 1926, in Jacksonville, Florida. He was the second of six children. According to biographical information provided by Kennedy’s children, his father, Johnnie Irvin Kennedy, Sr. was born in Columbia, South Carolina. The son of former slaves, he worked as a Pullman porter and settled in Jacksonville. He married the former Rosa Lee Williams, a Jacksonville native, in 1914. Mrs. Kennedy was a homemaker who baked jelly cakes for the younger Kennedy because they were his favorite desserts. The elder Kennedy enlisted in the United States Army in 1918 as a military fireman in Jacksonville and received a discharge later that year.1

The younger Kennedy played stickball, hitting a rock with a wooden stick, and football with friends and relatives. After the family moved near the city’s Durkee Field, now called James P. Small Memorial Stadium, he watched semipro and organized baseball games there.2 During Kennedy’s youth, the Jacksonville Red Caps and the Jacksonville Tars played at the park. The Red Caps competed in the Negro American League.3 The Tars were a Class A minor-league team that played in the South Atlantic League, also known as the Sally League. The games sparked his desire to play baseball.

One of Kennedy’s childhood friends, Harold Hair, played baseball with Kennedy. They also earned money together by parking cars and selling drinks during adult games at the park.4 Hair, who eventually played in the Negro Leagues, told a reporter: “He was quiet, but he was very aggressive on the ball field. Even when we were little in the park, he was aggressive. It was like night and day. He had a hair-trigger. It didn’t take too much pushing to get him riled up, because he was a fierce competitor.”5

Kennedy attended the high school branch of Edward Waters College (now Edward Waters University) and played for the school’s football and basketball teams. Following graduation, he joined the United States Army as a private in 1945. He served in the Philippines until the Army gave him an honorable discharge the following year.

After his discharge, Kennedy played baseball at local parks. As an adult, he played second base, shortstop, and third base. He batted and threw right, stood 5-feet-10, and weighed 175 pounds. His speed and hitting ability impressed Buck O’Neil, a Florida native. O’Neil helped Kennedy when the Manitoba-Dakota (ManDak) League began in 1950. This circuit started as a semiprofessional alliance of five teams in Canada and the United States. Many players were former Negro Leaguers, in addition to men from Manitoba, North Dakota, and Minnesota, as well as minor-leaguers.6 Kennedy joined the Winnipeg Buffaloes during the inaugural season. In the document provided by Kennedy’s children, his daughter Tazena wrote: “Buck O’Neil was impressed by my dad’s skills. He saw that my dad was quick on his feet and hit the baseball with precision, so Mr. O’Neil decided to recruit my dad and had him playing on several Canadian teams to perfect his craft.”7

The Buffaloes, managed by Willie Wells, team finished second in the regular season and first in the postseason tournament. They defeated the Brandon Greys 1-0 in a 17-inning game pitched by Leon Day in the tournament final. 8 After the season, the league named Kennedy an all-star at second base.9

Kennedy played again with the Buffaloes during the following season. That year, he and several other teammates attracted attention from the St. Louis Browns. Buffaloes manager Jack Hector confirmed that the Browns, then owned by Bill Veeck contacted five team members, including Kennedy, Day, Charlie White, and Butch Davis.10 The Buffaloes finished second in the regular season and the postseason league tournament.11

That year, Kennedy also played 10 games for the Albany Senators, an unaffiliated team in the Class A Eastern League. However, further information about this has not surfaced.

The Buffaloes disbanded after the 1951 season. Kennedy joined another ManDak club, the Minot Mallards, for the 1952 season. The Mallards finished first in the regular season and won the league playoffs.

In the book, The ManDak League: Haven for Former Negro League Ballplayers, 1950-1957, Barry Swanton praised Kennedy’s performance. Swanton listed Kennedy, who mostly played second base, among his all-stars of the league. According to Swanton, Kennedy batted .289 and played well defensively.12

Kennedy signed with the New York Giants in 1953. He spent the season with one of the organization’s minor-league affiliates, the St. Cloud Rox. The Rox competed in the Class C Northern League. Kennedy batted .262 with 40 extra-base hits. The organization released him after the season.13

In 1954, he started playing with the Birmingham Black Barons. He earned all-star honors, starting at shortstop for Oscar Charleston’s East team in the East-West game in Chicago on August 22, 1954, going 0-for-2. Willie Wells had managed the Barons for the first half of the season.14 Kennedy played with future country music star and short-time minor-league ballplayer Charley Pride, a pitcher.

Kennedy spent 1955 with Birmingham and switched to the Kansas City Monarchs in 1956. There, he earned all-star honors for the third consecutive year, although he played only in the 1954 game. Scouts for major-league teams attended the Monarchs’ games to watch him.15 Near the end of the season, the Monarchs sold his contract to the Philadelphia Phillies.

As Kennedy built his career, the Phillies’ fortunes had risen and fallen. Philadelphia’s Whiz Kids had briefly stopped the team’s traditional losing ways when they won the National League pennant in 1950. Subsequently, their core grew older and management continued to avoid minority ballplayers. Those issues created a talent gap between the team and other National League squads, especially the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1956, the Phillies recorded a 71-83 record and finished fifth among the then eight National League teams.

At the same time, public pressure about the integration issue built on the Phillies. The city’s branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Philadelphia Tribune, a Black newspaper, campaigned for the integration of the team.16 The NAACP twice requested meeting with Phillies owner Robert Carpenter.17 The Tribune wrote numerous articles and editorials about the issue.18

The Phillies had a racist reputation during the late 1940s and early 1950s. On April 22, 1947, manager Ben Chapman and several team members directed racial taunts at Jackie Robinson when the Phillies visited the Dodgers at Ebbets Field during Robinson’s rookie season.19 During the early 1950s, a Phillies official told a team scout: “If you keep on talking about those (Negro) players, you’re going to find yourself working for [then Pittsburgh Pirates general manager] Branch Rickey.”20 In 1953, Wendell Smith called the Phillies one of the most racist teams in the National League in an article for Ebony. He mentioned Robinson’s trouble with Chapman.21

In April 1954, the Phillies hired Roy Hamey to be the team’s general manager. Soon afterward, Hamey ordered scouts to hunt for talent in the Negro Leagues and hired Bill Yancey as a scout.22 Under Hamey’s leadership, the team signed several African American players. By July 1956, eight Black players played in the team’s minor-league affiliates.23

A month later, the Phillies gave Kennedy a tryout at their home ballpark, Connie Mack Stadium. He did not impress Hamey or manager Mayo Smith. Yancey told team officials Kennedy was a better player than he had shown at the workout. Because the team had a shortage of infielders in its farm system, it signed him for its Schenectady affiliate in the Class A Eastern League.24

Kennedy made the most of his second chance. During the following February, Kennedy surprised team officials when he performed well at the team’s rookie camp in Clearwater, Florida. After the camp, Kennedy, along with pitcher Dallas Green, pitcher Don Cardwell, first baseman Fred Hopke, and catcher Dick Harris earned spots at the team’s regular spring training camp in Clearwater. Kennedy’s selection made him the first African American to play with the team during spring training. 25 “No doubt this is my biggest thrill,” Kennedy told Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Allen Lewis. “I feel I am better than I’ve done so far, particularly with the bat. I’ll be giving everything I can to stick as long as I can.”26

Hamey told Lewis: “Who knows about Kennedy? All we know is he has looked really good here. We’re looking for a shortstop, you’ve got to keep the best and he’s been the best down here.27 The club’s primary shortstop since 1949, Granny Hamner, was then in an experiment to become a pitcher.

Smith praised Kennedy in another Inquirer story by Lewis: “He looks a lot better than he did in Philadelphia. He’s got good hands and, while he doesn’t have a great arm, he gets the ball away fast. He’s played several positions in the past, but we’ve been using him at third. He gets the bat on the ball pretty good, too. I don’t know; he just might be a better ball player than any of us thought he would be.” 28

Kennedy’s quest to earn a spot on the Phillies roster generated much media coverage. Stories about Kennedy appeared in mainstream newspapers and Black-owned newspapers across the country. Lewis wrote about Kennedy for the Inquirer and The Sporting News.

His bid had a dark side. Kennedy lived in segregated conditions away from the ballpark. He stayed in a private home away from teammates and ate in restaurants that served Blacks.29

Nonetheless, he continued to play well. During a 4-1 Phillies win against the St. Louis Cardinals, Kennedy hit two singles, drew a walk, and fielded well. He impressed officials from both teams. Hamey told The Sporting News that Kennedy “had a wonderful chance with this organization.” 30

On March 17, 1957, Kennedy starred on both offense and defense. According to one report: “Yesterday he had two singles and a run batted in as the Phils defeated the visiting Boston Red Sox, 4-1. He handled six chances in the field without an error and started one double play”31

Two days later, Kennedy sparkled in the infield as the Phillies beat the Detroit Tigers, 6-5, in 11 innings at Lakeland, Florida. According to a report, “John Kennedy made two nice plays at shortstop. He flagged Harvey Kuenn’s tricky grounder behind second and flipped to Ted Kazanski to force Frank Bolling to end the fifth, and started a fast double play on Ray Boone’s grounder in the sixth.”32

Kennedy’s chances to make the team appeared to be very bright. One writer noted that Kennedy had outperformed Philadelphia veterans Roy Smalley and Bobby Morgan during spring training. The same writer, however, had speculated that the Phillies might trade with the Brooklyn Dodgers for Chico Fernandez or Bob Lillis.33

Initially, the Tribune’s Claude Harrison, Jr. expressed skepticism about Kennedy’s chances to make the team. “If Kennedy were a better than average player or if the Phils used a Negro player before we would say his chances of making the team was very good. But since he is just an average player and the first Negro to play with the Quaker Squad, I don’t see him playing in Connie Mack Stadium come opening day.” 34 Harrison quickly overcame his skepticism and touted Kennedy. According to Harrison, Hamey said another player would have to beat Kennedy for the job. In late March 1957, Kennedy led the team with a .409 average and made good defensive plays at shortstop.35

His bid, however, hit a snag. Kennedy fell and bruised his right shoulder while running in the outfield on March 29, 1957. He missed several games. 36

Another snag occurred just before the start of the regular season. The Phillies struck a deal with the Dodgers, trading five players and paying $75,000 for Fernandez. The Phillies named him their starting shortstop. Fernandez, a native of Cuba, would become the first person with African ancestry to play for the team. At the same time as the trade, the Phillies promoted Kennedy to the majors.37

The Tribune praised the team in an editorial. “The Phillies have done it at last. When this city’s representative in the National Baseball League takes the field in a week from now, there will be a Negro in the line up, and another sitting on the bench. … We wish both men luck and congratulate the Phillies on the move.”38

Kennedy and Fernandez received recognition on April 15, 1957, the day before the Phillies opened the season by hosting the Dodgers. They were honored by a committee organized by the Philadelphia’s bureau of the Baltimore Afro American. A crowd of well-wishers, including a band, greeted the players when the team’s train arrived at the North Philadelphia station. The players posed for pictures and signed autographs at the paper’s office and attended a lunch in their honor at a restaurant 39On Opening Day, Fernandez broke the color barrier with the Phillies when he started against the Dodgers.

Kennedy didn’t play until the sixth game of the season. He debuted on April 22, 1957, when the Phillies faced the host Dodgers at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, New Jersey. Kennedy’s debut took place exactly 10 years after the Phillies’ racial taunting of Robinson. In the top of the eighth inning, Kennedy pinch-ran for Solly Hemus, who had doubled. Kennedy did not score.40 The Dodgers won, 5-1.41

Kennedy’s appearance made history in two ways. As he became the first African American player in Phillies history, the team became the last in the NL to use an African American player.

He never started a game. Kennedy’s next appearance took place two days later, when the Phillies hosted the Pittsburgh Pirates. During the Phillies’ 8-5 victory, he entered the game in the bottom of the sixth inning. He pinch-ran for Harry Anderson, who had singled. Kennedy eventually scored on Ed Bouchee’s triple.42 He also appeared in the following home games: a 6-3 Phillies loss to the Cincinnati Reds on April 30, 1957, an 8-6 Phillies loss to the Reds on May 1, 1957, and a 9-6 Phillies win over the Chicago Cubs on May 3, 1957.

Kennedy finished 0-for-2 at the plate, including one strikeout. He replaced Fernandez at shortstop during the two games against the Reds, recording an assist, making an error, and participating in one double play.

During Kennedy’s time with the Phillies, he posed with teammates for a photo that became a Topps baseball card in 1958. Kennedy and Fernandez sat next to each other in the first row.43

Three days after Kennedy’s final appearance for the Phillies, the team sent him to High Point-Thomasville. That team, which was based in Thomasville, North Carolina, competed in the Class B Carolina League. One reporter wrote: “The question wrinkling many faithful foreheads among the Connie Mack Stadium gentry is how could one who was reputedly so good suddenly be bad enough to be farmed out to a Class B league.”44

When a reporter asked Kennedy whether the Phillies gave him a fair chance, Kennedy said, “I don’t know.”45


The Sporting News hinted that Kennedy’s shoulder injury factored in his demotion. “Kennedy…led the team in hitting in the exhibition games and just about won the regular shortstop job before he was injured, March 29, while running in the outfield of Clearwater, Fla. A few days after he was hurt, the trade for Chico Fernandez was made and it was known Kennedy’s days with the Phils were numbered.”46

Soon after the Phillies demoted Kennedy, the team traded with the St. Louis Cardinals for infielder-outfielder Chuck Harmon. Harmon, who was two years older than Kennedy, had become the first African American to play for the Cincinnati Reds in 1954.47

Kennedy never played in the major leagues again. In addition, he never received an invitation to spring training.

Instead, he toiled in the Phillies organization until 1960. He notched solid numbers for High Point-Thomasville in 1957. He batted .270, hit 20 home runs, drove in 81 runs, and led the league with 23 stolen bases. After the season, Kennedy hit .309 for the Indios in the Colombian Winter League. The team was managed by Quincy Trouppe. 48

In March 1958, Kennedy reported to the Phillies’ Miami Marlins affiliate, a Triple-A team that competed in the International League.49 A month later, the Phillies organization sent him to its Tulsa Oilers affiliate in the Double-A Texas League. Marlins manager Kerby Farrell told the Miami Herald, “The fellow did a good job for me, but he needs to play every day and he wouldn’t be doing that here.”50

Kennedy played for the Des Moines Demons in 1959. The Demons competed in the Class B Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League. In 1960, he played for the Asheville Tourists, a Class A team in the South Atlantic League. The Phillies organization released him after the season.

By 1961, Kennedy had returned to Jacksonville, where he distributed newspapers for the Florida Times-Union. He played one game for the Jacksonville Jets, a team in the Class A South Atlantic League, in 1961. It was his last professional game.

However, Kennedy continued to play baseball in local parks. While he played at Simonds-Johnson Park, he met Betty Jean Corbett, who played softball there with her sisters. They married in 1969. She worked at Blue Cross & Blue Shield, before becoming a full-time homemaker. In addition to playing softball, she was a talented seamstress, furniture upholsterer, and painter. Like Kennedy’s mother, she baked jelly cakes for him. The couple raised three other children along with Tazena – Johnnie Irvin Kennedy, Jr., Richard Marshall, and Jacquelyn Corbett-Livingston.51

In 1973, John Kennedy moved to Middletown, Ohio for a job opportunity. There, he worked in a steel mill for Armco Steel Corporation (later known as A.K. Steel). His wife and three of their children remained in Jacksonville. Five years later, tragedy struck the family. Mrs. Kennedy died in a car accident in Jacksonville at the age of 34. According to an email from Tazena Kennedy, her father took the tragedy very hard. She wrote, “He was left with the responsibility of raising his children with the support of his sister, Theresia Butler, mother-in-law, Ella Mae Baker, and sisters-in-law, Gwendolyn Sumpter and Carolyn Godbolt. It was devastating for everyone because it was something that was unexpected.”52

Kennedy retired in 1991 and moved back to Jacksonville. He survived on a small pension from the steel company and resided in a home left to him and his siblings by his maternal uncle and aunt.

Kennedy stayed busy during his later years. He kept in touch with O’Neil and other former Negro League players, including Pride and Hair. He traveled, signing autographs and making appearances regarding the Negro Leagues and his career with the Phillies. In 1995, he traveled to Sarasota, Florida when the city honored O’Neil.53 He often watched sports at home and signed index cards for fans who requested his autograph.54

He enjoyed spending time with his family. When Tazena Kennedy’s daughters played softball for a youth team, he often took them to a park and practiced throwing, catching, and hitting with them. He also attended their games.55

Kennedy also played in local baseball leagues. In the late 1990s, he competed in a baseball league for players 30 years old and older as a designated hitter and occasional second baseman.56 Kennedy kept in shape by running up and down the bleachers of a local high school and playing basketball.57

After Kennedy’s demotion to the minor leagues, media interest in him dried up. He lived mostly in obscurity for the rest of his life. That changed in 1997 when Mark Kram of the Philadelphia Daily News and John N. Mitchell of Wilmington, Delaware’s The News Journal interviewed him for lengthy articles.

Kram claimed Kennedy lied about his age to the Phillies. Kram wrote: “He told the Phillies he was 21. He actually was 30.” In addition, Kram included quotes from Kennedy that implied the latter had misrepresented his age. According to Kram, Kennedy said: “I figured I would have a better chance if I told them I was 21. Who wants a 30-year-old rookie?” 58

Tazena Kennedy disputes the allegation that her father deliberately misled the team. “There have been rumors my dad lied about his age to obtain the chance to play for the Phillies. My dad abided by the military ‘don’t ask; don’t tell’ ideology long before it was Defense Directive 1304.26 issued by the Clinton Administration on December 21, 1993. Even though this directive was regarding sexual orientation, my dad adopted it in all aspects of his life. If someone said he was 21, then he was 21. He never admitted or denied what statement or assumption made about his age or any aspect of his life because he was very private. If that is what a person thought or wanted to say, my dad was not one to try and change anyone’s mind.”59

The article provided revelations from Kennedy. First, Kennedy told Kram that he was not bitter about his time with the Phillies. “Disappointed … well, yes, but not bitter,” he said. “I just wish I had gotten a chance to prove myself one way or another.”60 Second, Kennedy mentioned his recurring dream in which he’s a member of the Phillies, but he could not find the team’s locker room.61

In both articles, Kennedy stated that neither his Phillies teammates nor the team’s fans mistreated him. “I didn’t have a problem with anyone on my team or in the stands. I was treated with respect,” Kennedy told Mitchell.62

Kennedy provided another key comment to Mitchell. He explained the reason he still played baseball at an advanced age. “I still love the game and I can play it. This makes me happy. Why would I stop if I don’t have to?”

Kennedy passed away from a heart attack on April 27, 1998, several days after the 41st anniversary of his debut with the Phillies. His remains originally lay in an unmarked grave at Evergreen Cemetery, located in Jacksonville. The remains of his parents and two sisters, Theresia Butler and Naomi Kennedy-Jenkins, are also buried at the cemetery.

Though Kennedy did not achieve his goal of becoming one of the greatest, he did receive posthumous recognition that solidified his status as a history maker. In 1999, Gene Frenette of the Times-Union ranked him 85th among the 100 greatest athletes from the Jacksonville area. “Though he went 0 for 2 in the big leagues, Kennedy’s place in history warrants a spot on this list,” Frenette wrote. 63

Ten years later, a donated gray granite marker was placed at his grave during a ceremony attended by Kennedy’s family. A Florida state senator then, Tony Hill, Sr. (D-Jacksonville), organized the event after he read a Times-Union article about Kennedy written by Mike McCall. The article mentioned the unmarked grave. Hill contacted Wes Singletary, a baseball historian based in Tallahassee, Florida, to request assistance in securing a marker. Singletary called Scott Harward, owner of Ocala Marble & Granite Works. The men had previously sold insurance together. Harward donated the marker. Phil Myers, father of then-Phillies pitcher and Jacksonville native Brett Myers, represented the team at the event. The elder Myers presented Tazena Kennedy with a jersey with her father’s No. 8 on the back.64

The top of the marker lists Kennedy’s name, and the dates of his birth and death. The rest of the marker reads:




The author wishes to thank Tazena Kennedy for providing a document about her family’s history and SABR member Phil Williams for providing articles from the Philadelphia Tribune. The author also wishes to thank the following people and organizations for their assistance: George Castle, Rory Costello, Dr. Raymond Doswell of the Negro League Baseball Museum, Harold Hair, Dr. Leslie Heaphy, Cassidy Lent of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Kevin L. Mitchell, Bill Nowlin, Larry Shenk, Charles Slavik, the Chicago Public Library’s Interlibrary Loan Department, the Jacksonville Historical Society, Lloyd Washington of the Durkeeville Historical Society, the Jacksonville Public Library’s Special Collections Department, and the Florida Times-Union.

This story was reviewed by Bill Nowlin and Rory Costello and fact-checked by Russ Walsh.



In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted the following books, periodicals, and Internet websites:


Moffi, Larry and Jonathan Kronstadt. Crossing the Line: Black Major Leaguers, 1947-1959 (Jefferson, North Carolina and London: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1994)

Peterson, Robert. Only the Ball Was White: A History of Legendary Black Player and All-Black Professional Teams (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970).

Swaine, Rick. The Black Stars Who Made Baseball Whole: The Jackie Robinson Generation in the Major League, 1947-1959. McFarland & Company, Inc. Jefferson, North Carolina and London: 2006

Swaine, Rick. The Integration of Major League Baseball: A Team by Team History (Jefferson, North Carolina and London: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2009)

Threston, Christopher. The Integration of Baseball in Philadelphia. (Jefferson, North Carolina and London: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2003)


“Jackie Finds It ‘Strange’ – No Negros with Three Clubs,” The Sporting News, February 13,1957: 24

Harrison, Claude Jr., “City Hails Phil’s Negro Players,” Philadelphia Tribune, April 16, 1957: 1, 13

Silary, Ted. “Kennedy dies, was first black Phil,” Philadelphia Daily News, April 29, 1998: 74




1 John Kennedy’s daughter, Tazena Kennedy, emailed the document to the author on August 10, 2021.

2 Kennedy emailed document.

3 Kevin M. McCarthy, Baseball in Florida (Sarasota, Florida: Pineapple Press, Inc.,1996, 84; “Jacksonville’s Historic Durkeeville Baseball Field, Museum Getting $500,000 Upgrades,” WJCT News, January 26, 2018 (; “A Brief History of Professional Baseball in Jacksonville,” Coastal, (Jacksonville), April 10, 2018 (

4 Mike McCall, “Forgotten pioneer: Jacksonville native John Kennedy was Phillies’ first Black player,” Florida Times-Union: September 16, 2008: D1, D6

5 McCall.

6 The league disbanded in 1957.

7 Kennedy emailed document.

8 “Buffaloes take Mandak ball title,” Leader-Post (Regina, Saskatchewan), September 15, 1950: 25.

9 Barry Swanton, Mandak League: Haven for Former Negro League Ballplayers, 1950-1957 Jefferson, North Carolina and London: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2006, 21.

10 “Canadian Says Veeck Eyes 5 Negro Players,” Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), July 11, 1951: 22.

11 Another teammate was Lyman Bostock, Sr. His son, Lyman Bostock, Jr., played for the Minnesota Twins and California Angels.

12 Swanton, 3.

13 Mark Kram, “Johnnie Come Lately: Short stop for Phillies’ first Black,” Philadelphia Daily News, May 29, 1997: 79-81.

14 William J. Plott, Black Baseball’s Last Team Standing: The Birmingham Black Barons, 1919-1952, (Jefferson, North Carolina McFarland & Company, Inc., 2019), 228.

15 “Negro League Teams Meet at McCormick Field,” Daily Pantagraph (Bloomington-Normal, Illinois), August 2, 1956: 11.

16 “Drive to Get Phillies to Hire Negros Is On,” Philadelphia Tribune, May 13, 1952: 1-2. At the time, the Philadelphia Athletics did not have a Black player on their roster. The NAACP’s Labor and Industry Committee wrote a letter to the Tribune which explained the reason the organization did not campaign against the Athletics. The committee argued the Athletics had Black players in their minor league system and that the Phillies had none. The paper published the letter on page 4 of its June 3, 1952 issue. The Athletes put pitcher Bob Trice, their first Black player, on the team in 1953.

17 “Confab With Phillies Head Asked by NAACP,” Philadelphia Tribune, June 3, 1952, 11; “Phillies Called ‘Most Prejudiced’,” Philadelphia Tribune, June 26, 1956: 1.

18 “Why Should We Worry,” Philadelphia Tribune, May 17, 1952: 4; “8 Negros on Roster of Phils Farm Teams,” Philadelphia Tribune, July 3, 1956: 1-2; “Phillies officials willing to discuss racial attitude,” Philadelphia Tribune, July 14, 1956: 15.

19 Arnold Rampersad, Jackie Robinson: A Biography (New York: Knopf, 1997), 172; Jules Tygiel, Baseball’s Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and his legacy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983). 182-184.

20 W. Rollo Wilson, “Through the Eyes of W. Rollo Wilson,” Pittsburgh Courier, March 1, 1952: 15. Branch Rickey, during his tenure as president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, had started the integration of major league baseball when he signed Jackie Robinson in 1947.

21 Wendell Smith, “The Most Prejudiced Teams in Baseball,” Ebony, May 1953: 117-118.

22 Ed Linn, “The Tragedy of the Phillies,” in The Phillies Reader, ed. Richard Orodenker (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2005), 104-121. Linn’s article originally was published in Sport magazine’s March 1955 issue.

23 “8 Negros on Roster of Phils Farm Teams,” Philadelphia Tribune, July 3, 1956: 1-2.

24 Allen Lewis, “Phillies Farm Hand Impresses Smith on Second Time Around,” Philadelphia Inquirer, February 23, 1957: 15; John N. Mitchell, “A forgotten barrier breaker,” News Journal (Wilmington, Delaware), August 23, 1997: A1, A8.

25 “Kennedy to stay at Phillies’ Camp; First Negro to Train with Regulars,” Philadelphia Tribune, March 2, 1957: 6.

26 Allen Lewis, “Kennedy, 4 Others to Train with Phils’ Regular Squad,” Philadelphia Inquirer, February 27, 1957: 36.

27 Allen Lewis, “Kennedy, 4 Others to Train with Phils’ Regular Squad.”

28 Allen Lewis, “Phillies Farm Hand Impresses Smith on Second Time Around,” Philadelphia Inquirer, February 23, 1957: 15.

29 John Murrow, “Kennedy ended Phils drought,” Philadelphia Daily News, July 9, 2014: 47.

30 Allen Lewis, “Kennedy, in O.B. Bow, Could Rate Berth with Phils,” The Sporting News, March 17, 1957: 17.

31 “Major League Training Briefs,” Scranton Times, March 18, 1957: 20.

32 Allen Lewis, “Phil top Tigers, 6-5, in 11th; Hammer Wild, HR for Lonnett,” Philadelphia Inquirer, March 20, 1957: 43, 45.

33 Jack Hand, “Phillies Must Solve Weakness at Shortstop,” Springfield News Leader, March 22, 1957: 27.

34 Claude Harrison, Jr., “People in Sports,” Philadelphia Tribune, March 19, 1957: 11.

35 Claude Harrison, Jr., “John Kennedy Seems to Be Answer to Phillies Shortstop Problem,” Philadelphia Tribune, March 26, 1957: 11.

36 Allen Lewis, “Simmons Sizzles on Easy-Does-It Pitching Pattern,” The Sporting News, April 10, 1957: 11.

37 Allen Lewis, “Phils’ Biggest Gap Plugged by Fernandez,” The Sporting News, April 17, 1957: 24.

38 “Phillies Fall in Line,” Philadelphia Tribune, April 9, 1957: 10.

39 Earl Vann, Ruth Jenkins, “Turnout for Kennedy, Fernandez,” Baltimore Afro-American, April 20, 1957: 22.

40 Hemus later managed the St. Louis Cardinals during the early 1960s. According to Curt Flood’s memoir, The Way It Is, Hemus did not have a good relationship with the team’s Black players. (New York: Trident Press, 1971)

41 Allen Lewis, “Errors Help Dodgers Down Phillies, Hearn, 5-1,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 23, 1957: 27-28.


43 The Topps card is #134.

44 Bob Queen, “From Majors to Class B In Minors Is Fate of Phillies’ John Kennedy,” Pittsburgh Courier, May 18, 1957: 24.

45 “Phillies Ship Kennedy to Minors After Obtaining Chico Fernandez,” Chicago Defender National Edition, May 18, 1957: 22.

46 “Spring Sensation Kennedy Sent to Farm Club by Phils,” The Sporting News, May 15, 1957: 35.

47 Nino Escalera, a Puerto Rican, was the first black person to play for the Reds.

48 Luis A. Bello, “Vayntor Victory Streak Snapped; Skorupski Hurt,” The Sporting News, December 11, 1957: 30.

49 Luther Evans, “Touted Phil Rookie Now with Marlins,” Miami Herald, March 18, 1958: 4-D.

50 Eddie Storin, “Marlins Win 9th Street; Hopke Raps 2,” Miami Herald, April 9, 1958: 1-D, 2-D.

51 According to Tazena Kennedy’s email to the author, dated December 6, 2021, her father was rarely called “Jr.” Tazena Kennedy’s brother, Johnnie Irvin Kennedy, Jr., was given the suffix.

52 Tazena Kennedy email to author, November 15, 2021.

53 Buck O’Neil and David Conrads, I Was Right on Time (New York: Simon & Schuster,1996), 232.

54 Kennedy emailed document.

55 Kennedy emailed document.

56 Kram, 80.

57 Kennedy emailed document.

58 Kram, 79-81.

59 Kennedy emailed document. Also, John Kennedy listed his correct date of birth on the questionnaire for William J. Weiss.

60 Kram, 80.

61 Kram, 79-81.

62 John N. Mitchell, “A forgotten barrier breaker,” News Journal (Wilmington, Delaware), August 23, 1997: A1, A8.

63 Frenette, Gene, “100 Years, 100 Athletes: John Irvin Kennedy,” Florida Times-Union, October 31,1999: D4.

64 Mike McCall, D1, D6; “Grave marker honors first black Phillie,” Philadelphia Daily News, February 27, 2009: 99; Mark Grayson, “Ocala firm owner helps honor memory of player who broke Phillies’ color line,” Ocala Business Journal, February 28, 2009.

Full Name

John Irvin Kennedy


October 12, 1926 at Jacksonville, FL (USA)


April 27, 1998 at Jacksonville, FL (USA)

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