Dick Brookins is at far right, front row.

A Perfect Right to Play: Billy Williams, Dick Brookins, and the Color Line

This article was written by Todd Peterson

This article was published in The National Pastime: Baseball in the North Star State (Minnesota, 2012)

In the relatively progressive state of Minnesota, African Americans were still able to participate on integrated amateur and semi-professional ball teams. Two men in paticular, slugger Billy Williams and crack infielder Dick Brookins, figured prominently on the Midwestern diamonds of the early twentieth century, although their experiences with the color line took radically different turns.

After Bill Galloway appeared in 20 games for the Woodstock (Ontario) Bains during the summer of 1899, it would be nearly half a century before another black man was permitted to play Organized Baseball. Three years before the outfielder’s brief tenure in the Canadian League, the United States Supreme Court ruling in Plessy vs. Ferguson had essentially legalized the segregation of whites and blacks in American society.[fn]Phil Dixon with Patrick J. Hannigan, The Negro Baseball Leagues: A Photographic History (Mattituck, New York: Amereon House, 1992), 75–76.[/fn]

Dick Brookins is at far right, front row.Jim Crow’s progress was slowed however, in the relatively progressive state of Minnesota, where African Americans were still able to participate on integrated amateur and semi-professional ball teams. Two such men, slugger Billy Williams and crack infielder Dick Brookins, figured prominently on the Midwestern diamonds of the early twentieth century, although their experiences with the color line took radically different turns.

William Frank Williams, Minnesota’s first great black slugger, was born in St. Paul in October 1877, the son of an African American father and a mother of German descent. He first gained notice as a baseball, football, and basketball star at St. Paul’s Mechanic Arts High School, while also setting the state shot put record. While still in high school in 1894, the tall, 182-pound youngster began his professional baseball career with the St. Paul Spaldings, the Twin Cities’ leading semipro squad.[fn]Twin City Star, July 22, 1911; National Advocate, December 12, 1918; United States Government World War I Registration Card, Roll 1682638, serial number 232, September 12, 1918; Minneapolis Spokesman, November 21, 1963.[/fn]

Billy, as he was commonly known, soon became one of the area’s top amateur players. Whether manning first base or roaming the outfield, the “local favorite” could be counted on for at least couple of hits and tracked down pop flies “like the wind.” Although barred from Organized Baseball, Williams gained a reputation for playing well against top flight competition. In April 1898, with Western League and future American League president Ban Johnson looking on, the 20-year-old Williams went 3-for-5 with a double and a run batted in during the Hamm’s Exports 13–3 loss to the St. Paul Saints at Lexington Park.[fn]National Advocate, December 12, 1918; St. Paul Pioneer Press, April 11, 1898, June 27, July 11, August 12, 15, 1898; Shakopee Scott Country Argus, September 1, 1898.[/fn]

Billy Williams was the only African American on the Hamm’s Exports, as he was with most of the semipro outfits for which he played. In September 1900 the young first baseman was in the lineup for Red Wing during their big game with the Chicago Unions, one of the premier African American teams in the country. The southeastern Minnesota nine dropped a hard fought 7–6 contest, but not before Billy singled and scored a run off Will Horn, compelling the future St. Paul Gophers twirler to force “Williams to take his base on balls.” The Unions were impressed enough to offer the slick-fielding Williams a contract for the following year, but he opted instead to remain in St. Paul and keep his position as assistant athletic director and gymnastic instructor at the local Y.M.C.A.[fn]Red Wing Republican, September 8, 1900; Goodhue County News, September 13, 1900; Twin City Star, July 22, 1911; Wisconsin Weekly Advocate (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), December 10, 1903.[/fn] 

As perhaps the best ballplayer in the state, Williams had little trouble finding teams to pay for his services. In April 1901 he took the field for a Twin Cities squad called the Prairie Leaguers when they met up with the St. Paul Saints in a pre-season contest. Williams collected a single in four at bats, but was overshadowed by tiny Saints second baseman Miller Huggins. The future Hall of Famer laid down a bunt single, stole two bases, and slammed a home run in the Apostles 9–5 win. In June Williams got another crack at the Saints when the Litchfield club of central Minnesota hired him before their big game with the Capital City nine. Billy rapped out two singles, one double, stole a base, scored a run, and registered ten putouts without an error during the independent squad’s improbable 4–0 whitewash of the Western League outfit.[fn]St. Paul Globe, April 29, 1901; Litchfield News Ledger, June 20, 1901.[/fn]

Two months later Litchfield took on the fabled Waseca EACOs, one of the era’s most fully integrated baseball teams, for the state championship. The EACOs, which went on to defeat the Western League champion Kansas City Blues in September, had four of the nation’s best black ballplayers on their roster: third baseman Harry Hyde, catcher Robert Footes, pitcher and outfielder Billy Holland, and legendary fireballer George Wilson. Perhaps because there was “bad blood between the rival organizations,” 9,270 fans, the largest Twin City crowd in years, crammed into Lexington Park on August 11 to witness the showdown.[fn]Waseca Radical, October 2, 1901; St. Paul Globe, August 11, 1901; St. Paul Pioneer Press, August 12, 1901; Aberdeen Daily News (South Dakota), August 21, 1901.[/fn]

With Billy Williams, the first of the great Minnesota black sluggersWith Waseca leading 2–0 in the top of the third inning, Williams drove two men home with a booming triple off of George Wilson to tie the score, but things went distinctly south for the overmatched Litchfield side thereafter, as they committed several errors and the EACOs rolled to a 9–2 victory. Wilson struck out nine Litchfield batters, and scattered eight hits to nail down the victory. The big left hander also singled, stole a base and smashed a home run to aid his cause. Billy Holland added two hits to the Waseca attack including a double, and likewise pilfered a base, while Harry Hyde singled twice, scored three runs, and stole two bases, including a swipe of home.[fn]St. Paul Pioneer Press, August 12, 1901.[/fn]

The following April Williams was again manning first base for the Prairie Leaguers when they took on the Minneapolis Millers at Lexington Park. According to the game account in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Millers were clinging to a 3–1 lead in the eighth inning when Williams, who had twice flown out to deep right field, “sorted out a bat and came in to win the game.” He did just that, sparking the busher’s three-run rally by ripping a single just inside the right field line, before eventually coming all the way around to tie the contest.[fn]St. Paul Pioneer Press, April 21, 1902.[/fn]

The Prairie Leaguers eked out a stunning 4–3 victory, and after the game a scout reportedly offered Williams a contract to play first base for Ned Hanlon, then manager of the National League’s Brooklyn Superbas. A year earlier, John McGraw, one of Hanlon’s former players, had attempted to pass off the outstanding black second baseman Charlie Grant as a Cherokee Indian in order to sneak him on his American League’s Baltimore Orioles squad—for whatever reason, Native Americans were deemed acceptable by Organized Baseball, while Africans Americans were decidedly not. Unfortunately McGraw‘s ruse was soon discovered and Grant returned in ignominy to the Chicago Columbia Giants.[fn]St. Paul Pioneer Press, April 21, 1902; National Advocate, December 12, 1918; James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2002), 330; Minneapolis Tribune, August 5, 1942.[/fn] 

Hanlon assured Williams that it would easy to for him to impersonate an Indian because he was “light complexioned, has an aquiline nose, and straight hair.” Williams nevertheless declined Hanlon’s offer. In 1904 John McGraw also asked Williams to pose as a Native American in order to join the New York Giants, but again he refused, saying, “I am a Negro. I am proud of my race and wouldn’t masquerade as an Indian for all the money in the world.” Williams held on to Hanlon’s contract however, and it long remained one of his most prized possessions.[fn]National Advocate, December 12, 1918; Minnesota Messenger, June 16, 1923; Minneapolis Tribune, August 5, 1942.[/fn] 

* * *

While Billy Williams was extremely proud of his heritage, Dick Brookins spent much of his life obscuring his—over a century later it is still unclear what the talented infielder’s racial makeup actually was, although several Organized Baseball officials had a very definite opinion.

Richard Clarence Brookins was born in St. Louis in July 1879. His father, Richard Sr., was a railroad porter from Germany who later operated a coal yard. Although his mother Louisa’s heritage was listed in the 1880 Census as white, a Missouri teammate, Jack Sheridan, recalled that the infielder’s mother was a “Sioux Indian.” Curiously, when Brookins’ younger brother James applied for a marriage license in St. Louis in 1908, he was initially rejected until Louisa “swore” James was a Native American.[fn]1880 United States Census, St. Louis, Missouri; Moberly Weekly Monitor (Missouri), January 10, October 2, 1908.[/fn]

In 1903 Brookins was recruited to play third base for the strong semipro Moberly Signals of northern Missouri. From the onset, the “question of his race was raised,” and Captain Sheridan had to assure the local fans that Brookins was native born. Brookins won over the Moberly faithful by playing “professional ball,” earning a reputation as one of the best all-around performers the team ever had and “one of the fastest ball players in the state.”[fn]Moberly Evening Democrat (Missouri), July 7, 20, 1903, August 18, 1904; Moberly Weekly Monitor (Missouri), January 10, 1908.[/fn] Brookins could “run like a deer,” never failed to steal a base if he could, and even pitched a game or two. On the mound he did not depend on his “wide curves” to win games, instead preferring to “make his in and out-fields work.”[fn]Moberly Evening Democrat (Missouri), July 7, 1903; Moberly Sunday Morning Monitor (Missouri), September 23, 1906; Moberly Weekly Monitor (Missouri), January 10, 1908.[/fn]

After spending three seasons with Moberly, Brookins made the jump to Organized Ball in 1906 with Green Bay in the Wisconsin Association. Even though the 26-year old infielder posted only a .225 batting average for the middle of the pack Colts, he usually batted in the second, third, or fifth spot in the order. Brookins was hitting .260 for Green Bay in July 1907, when he was sold to Houghton (Michigan) Giants of the Northern Copper County League, a squad desperately in need of an infielder.[fn]Baseball-Reference.com, “Dick Brookins,” www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=brooki001ric, December 7, 2010; Oshkosh Daily Northwestern (Wisconsin), June 16, August 28, 1906; Eau Claire Leader (Wisconsin), August 14, 1908; Duluth News Tribune, July 10, 1907.[/fn] 

At Houghton, the “clever third baseman,” batted .307 in 48 games and was also used as a long reliever. Brookins’ “phenomenal” hitting and fielding were said to be the best of any third sacker in the league, including recent New York Giants acquisition John Sundheim. Controversy arose late in the season, however. As Houghton started gaining ground in the standings, players from the Duluth White Sox accused Brookins of being “a member of the negro race and not an Indian.”[fn]Duluth News Tribune, September 3, 1907, August 17, 1908, March 26, 1910; La Crosse Tribune (Wisconsin), October 17, 1907; Baseball-Reference.com, “Dick Brookins,” www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=brooki001ric, December 7, 2010.[/fn]

The Duluth owners started to dig into the infielder’s background, and it was reported that a man from St. Louis would soon arrive with “birth records and other data,” proving Brookins was black. The sports editor for Duluth News Tribune, who had instigated the investigation, opined: “If he is an Indian he has a perfect right to play league baseball. If he is a Negro he will be forever barred from taking part in games played under the supervision of the National Association.” The Tribune editor also observed that Brookins was perhaps the fastest man ever to play in the Northern League, adding he was “a very gentlemanly fellow and is well thought of by all the Houghton boys.” For his part, Brookins stated that, “he was not a negro, but an Indian.” After a Giants losing streak put them out of the money, the matter was dropped.[fn]Duluth News Tribune, September 3, 1907, January 4, June 10, 1908, March 26, 1910.[/fn] 

In October Brookins was drafted by Indianapolis of the American Association for the sum of $400, and that fall it was reported he played a few games for the Indians under the name of “Brooks.” Elated Indians owner W.H. Watkins announced the discovery of “a star of exceptional quality,” and that major league scouts “believed the dark skinned boy will prove a wonder.” His skin color soon became an issue, however. A few American Association veterans wintering in Chicago believed Brookins was too dark-complexioned and announced that they would not play with him.[fn]La Crosse Tribune (Wisconsin), October 17, 1907; Duluth News Tribune, December 29, 1907, March 26, 1910; Moberly Weekly Monitor (Missouri), January 10, 1908.[/fn] 

A rumor soon surfaced that the real reason Green Bay had dumped Brookins was because of his race. In January American Association officials announced they were forming a committee to look into the matter, and shortly thereafter it was reported that Brookins’ African American heritage had been firmly established. Watkins defiantly vowed he was going to play Brookins anyway, but in the end the “swarthy skinned” infielder failed to report to the Hoosier team that spring.[fn]Duluth News Tribune, January 4, 19, 1908, March 26, 1910; Moberly Weekly Monitor (Missouri), January 10, 1908.[/fn]

Instead, Brookins headed back to the Northern League and signed with Fargo. Unfortunately, the infielder, described as the “real star of the team,” twisted his knee early in the season and was out of action for several games. The issue of his ethnicity again popped up in early June, when a rival club, attempting to sign the great black pitcher George Wilson, was informed by circuit officials that “negroes would not be allowed to play on Northern League teams.” The accusation was then made that Brookins was also black and that if he was allowed to play, the other squads should be able to employ African Americans as well. The Duluth News Tribune warned “the league cannot afford to stand for Negro performers and that if it does it will simply sound its own death knell.”[fn]Moberly Weekly Monitor (Missouri), June 4, 1908; Grand Forks Evening Times (North Dakota), May 19, 1908; Duluth News Tribune, June 10, 1908.[/fn] In any event, Brookins was still manning third base and batting cleanup for the Browns when the league broke up in mid-August.

Following the collapse of the Northern League, Brookins signed with the Hibbing Colts, the “independent champs of the Northwest,” beginning a decade-long relationship with the semipro club. Hibbing was a booming mining community of 8,000 located on northeastern Minnesota’s Iron Range, and Municipal Judge Thomas Brady heavily bankrolled the city’s crack team of former professionals. After Brookins joined the squad, the Colts took five out of six games from the Northern League’s Duluth White Sox. Hibbing later traveled to St. Paul for a big showdown with the mighty St. Paul Gophers, where they were no-hit by future Hall of Fame twirler Rube Foster.[fn]Duluth News Tribune, August 14, 17, 1908; St. Paul Pioneer Press, August 26, 29,1908; Hibbing Tribune Daily, October 13, 1908; William Watts Folwell, A History Of Minnesota; Volume IV, (St. Paul, Minnesota: Minnesota Historical Society, [1929] 1969 edition), 50–53; Hibbing Chamber of Commerce, www.hibbing.org/visitor_info.html, January 1, 2006.[/fn]

During the offseason Brookins, along with fellow Hibbing teammate and future major leaguer Jack Gilligan, signed to play with the Vancouver Beavers of the Class B Northwestern League. In early April it was related that Brookins was “very ill” at his home in St. Louis and probably wouldn’t report that year, although at the same time the infielder informed Judge Brady he was in “the best of condition.” Brookins soon arrived at the Beavers camp and made the squad as a utility infielder. Despite reports that he created a “great impression,” the “full blooded Cherokee Indian,” as he was then described, failed to appear in any of Vancouver’s first 11 games. He pinch-hit unsuccessfully for the Beavers in the ninth inning of their April 29 contest with the Aberdeen Black Cats but left the squad soon thereafter when questions about his heritage were raised once more. Brookins returned to Hibbing and spent the rest of the summer with the Colts, back in the prestigious third spot in the order.[fn]St. Paul Pioneer Press, August 29,1908; The Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), April 11, 30, 1909; Duluth News Tribune, April 2, 1909; Rich Necker, “The Brookins Banishment—a stain on the reputation of the W.C.B.L.,” Western Canada Baseball www.attheplate.com/wcbl/profile_brookins_ dick.html, November 30, 2010.[/fn]

The indefatigable Brookins next showed up in the spring of 1910 playing third base and batting third for the Regina Bone Pilers of the Western Canada League. Regina was managed by Louis “Roxey” Walters, whom Brookins had played with in Green Bay, and ex-Hibbing pitchers William Gilchrist and George Sage were also on the squad.[fn]Rich Necker, “The Brookins Banishment—a stain on the reputation of the W.C.B.L.,” Western Canada Baseball www.attheplate.com/wcbl/profile_brookins_dick.html, November 30, 2010; Winona Republican Herald, April 27, May 2, 1910.[/fn]

Although Brookins was initially described by his manager as being of “Puerto Rican and French ancestry,” the Regina press asserted that the slick-fielding infielder was “one of the noble red men.” By mid-May however, a few rival clubs yet again accused Brookins of being an African American. Several members of one of the protesting teams, the Calgary Bronchos, had also played in the Northwestern League during Brookins brief sojourn there in 1909.[fn]Rich Necker, “The Brookins Banishment—a stain on the reputation of the W.C.B.L.,” Western Canada Baseball www.attheplate.com/wcbl/profile_brookins_dick.html, November 30, 2010; Moberly Evening Monitor (Missouri), May 29, 1910.[/fn]

Further pressure came from the Moose Jaw club, whose fans had been particularly abusive in their treatment of the controversial third baseman, and in early June circuit president C.J. Eckstrom formally expelled Brookins from the Western Canada League. Eckstrom took this extreme action despite Brookins’ claims that he possessed a diploma from a Native American University and a report from Organized Baseball’s National Association reportedly clearing Brookins to play. To his everlasting credit, Roxey Walters pulled his team off the field before a game against Medicine Hat in protest, thereby forfeiting the contest and earning himself a $50 fine. But it was to no avail. Brookins never returned to the Regina lineup, and the dispirited Bone Pilers wound up disbanding before the end of the season—dead last and bankrupt.[fn]Rich Necker, “The Brookins Banishment—a stain on the reputation of the W.C.B.L.,” Western Canada Baseball www.attheplate.com/wcbl/profile_brookins_dick.html, November 30, 2010.[/fn]

Brookins’ Canadian stint was his last foray into Organized Ball. The 31-year-old infielder quietly drifted back to Hibbing where he capably held down the third base bag for the next nine seasons while also working as a fireman in one of the local mines. In September 1917 Brookins keyed a 3–2, 14-inning win over archrival Chisholm by singling, doubling, and scoring a run. During his final go around with the Colts the following summer, the grizzled veteran could still be found batting as high as fifth in the order. Brookins eventually moved his wife and five children to San Leandro, California where he found employment as a railroad carpenter.[fn]1930 United States Census. Alameda County, California; Duluth News Tribune, July 20, 1910, March 31, 1912, June 11, 1915, August 28, 1916, September 10, 1917, July 9, 1918; Hibbing Daily Tribune, July 14, 1911, June 22, 1912, July 29, 1913, August 10, 1914; United States Government World War I Registration Card, Roll 1675891, serial number 2510, September 12, 1918.[/fn]

* * *

During the summer of 1903 Billy Williams hooked up with the Chippewa Falls club of western Wisconsin and powered them to a 30–2 start and a state championship. That August at Lexington Park, the Badger nine beat Fargo of Organized Baseball’s Northern League 4–2. A Milwaukee reporter asserted that “more men of Mr. Williams’ stamp would bring better days for the Negro race.” In the spring of 1904 Williams was unanimously elected captain of the otherwise white St. Paul Amateur Baseball Association team because of “his knowledge of the game.”[fn]St. Paul Globe, August 7, 10, 1903, March 14, 1904; Wisconsin Weekly Advocate (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), December 10, 1903; St. Paul Appeal, March 19, 1904.[/fn] 

In 1905 Minnesota Governor John Johnson was so captivated by the big 27-year-old ballplayer that he hired him as his clerk. Williams, who had worked in a similar capacity with a previous governor, “Happy John” Lind, wowed the Governor-elect by re-designing a vault to store his important documents. According to one report, “When the contractors arrived to construct the vault it was discovered that Williams’ specifications did not vary an eighth of an inch from the true dimensions.” Billy and Johnson, a big sports fan, were often found discussing “the prospects in the leagues.” State officials looking to protect their wagers, were likewise known to approach the former gridiron star “for consul” before a big football game, after he picked the winner of the Minnesota-Wisconsin border war five years running.[fn]St.PaulAppeal,December30,1905;MinnesotaMessenger,June16,1923.[/fn] 

By using his allotted vacation time during the summer, the “Governor’s messenger” kept playing ball for several years, finally retiring after a 22-year career. When he signed with the newly organized Austin Western outfit in 1908, the team’s owner presented him with a “new bat, which is about as long as Billy is.” Before a game in May against the St. Paul Gophers, Williams, now known as “the most popular player in Minnesota,” was given a large ovation before his first plate appearance. In a June contest against Winona, Williams collected three hits, including two home runs, stole a base, and made a great one-handed catch over his head 30 feet behind first base.[fn]St. Paul Pioneer Press, May 24, 31, 1908; St. Paul Dispatch, June 27, 1908; Minnesota Messenger, June 16, 1923.[/fn] 

In 1910 “hitting as well as ever,” Williams held down first base for the Sauk Rapids, Minnesota squad and toured the Dakotas with the Twin City All-Stars. Said to “be known all over the country as a great batter and fielder,” he once so awed a touring party from Japan’s Waseda University that they asked him to “teach and coach a team in American baseball,” but Williams politely turned down their offer.[fn]Minneapolis Tribune, July 31, 1910; Winona Republican Herald, June 19, 1908; National Advocate, December 12, 1918; Minnesota Messenger, June 16, 1923.[/fn] 

Billy Williams retained his executive clerk position even after Governor Johnson’s death in 1909. Both Democrat and Republican Governors reportedly “became so used to him, that they never thought of [not] reappointing him.” Originally hired at the then respectable sum of $900 a year, the “Prince of Personality” was voted $300 pay raises by the Minnesota Legislature in both 1911 and 1917, leading the Duluth News Tribune to muse that “Williams is one of the few people in public office who is next to indispensable.”[fn]win City Star, July 22, 1911; Duluth New Tribune, December 31, 1915, April 19, 1917; Minnesota Messenger, June 16, 1923.[/fn] 

The Minnesota Legislature always consulted with Billy Williams “before any actual procedure takes place,” concerning the black community, and in 1923 a local African American paper declared that his presence, “means so much in the safe guarding of our interest against possible adversaries.” In 1945 however, the Minneapolis Spokesman claimed Williams was only a glorified receptionist and griped that, “had he been white, we believe he would have long ago have been elected to important posts in the state government.”[fn]Northwestern Bulletin, April 28, 1923; Minneapolis Spokesman, January 12, 1945.[/fn] 

In November 1963 Billy Williams passed away following a long illness, and the flags on all Minnesota State buildings were flown at half-mast in his honor. He had retired in 1957 after a spending 52 years as the executive aide to 14 consecutive governors. Renowned for his ability to make “friends wherever he goes,” Williams had personally met every U.S. President from William Howard Taft to Harry S. Truman. He had truly been, as the combined houses of the Minnesota Legislature once shouted in unison, “Good Bill, good Bill, good Billy Williams.”[fn]Minneapolis Spokesman, November 21, 1963; Minneapolis Tribune, August 7, 1910; Minneapolis Star-Tribune, February 23, 2000; Duluth News Tribune, April 13, 1917.[/fn] 

* * *

Neither Billy Williams nor Dick Brookins played for the St. Paul Gophers or Minneapolis Keystones, Minnesota’s two premier blackball teams of the era, but they competed against them several times. During the summer of 1907 Williams captained the Chaska White Diamonds in two matches with the Gophers. The St. Paul nine took the first contest 9–3 at a baseball tournament in Lester Prairie, as their ace, Johnny Davis, deliberately pitched around Williams all day. In their next meeting at Chaska, the “Professor of Applied Swatology,” ripped two ”sky scraping fouls over the right field fence” off of Davis before knocking in two teammates with a “grass cutting” single. Williams also stole a base and scored a run, but the professionals still prevailed, 5–4.[fn]Lester Prairie News, August 8, 1907; Chaska Weekly Valley Herald, September 12, 1907.[/fn] Dick Brookins was a particular thorn in the side of the Gophers, clubbing five home runs and five doubles while scoring 18 times against them in 25 games over a four year period (1908–1911). In one 1910 contest against the reigning black ball champions, Brookins singled off Johnny Davis, stole second, and scored on a wild pitch to tie the game at two. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Brookins was walked with the bases loaded, giving Hibbing a 3–2 triumph. A year later Brookins took to the mound and threw an 8–4 complete game victory over the St. Paul squad, striking out four batters while walking none, and hitting a double in his own behalf. The win came with a back story: a few days prior, Brookins, lauded as ”one of the most gentlemanly little ball players that stepped on the field” became so unglued that he intentionally spiked a sliding Gophers runner.[fn]Duluth News Tribune, July 18, 1910; Hibbing Daily Tribune, July 14, 19, 1911; Rich Necker, “The Brookins Banishment—a stain on the reputation of the W.C.B.L.,” Western Canada Baseball www.attheplate.com/wcbl/profile_brookins_dick.html, November 30, 2010; Regina Morning Leader (Saskatchewan, Canada), May 17, 1910.[/fn] 

Among the many injustices of baseball’s color line was the marginalization of African American players’ legacies. Although he made the most of his limited opportunities, Billy Williams received very few shots to compete against clubs from Organized Baseball. Dick Brookins did manage to muster over 1,000 at bats in Organized Ball, but the continued animosity he encountered along the way no doubt hindered his performance. Certainly his .250 minor league average does not reflect the high regard in which he was held. Ironically, a better gauge of the crack third baseman’s abilities might be his record against African American clubs. In 33 recorded games against the Gophers and the Keystones, Brookins batted .286 while facing major league quality pitchers such as Johnny Davis, “Big” Bill Gatewood, and Louis “Dicta” Johnson. Late in his career Brookins also got the opportunity to face the legendary John Donaldson, then on the famed All Nations team. He only managed two safeties in 11 at bats but drove in two runs and laced a triple against the great southpaw.[fn]Baseball-Reference.com, “Dick Brookins,” www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=brooki001ric, December 7, 2010; Hibbing Daily Tribune, June 22, 24, 1912, July 24, 1914.[/fn]

The Jim Crow phenomena of blacks attempting to pass as members of other ethnic groups was certainly not unique to baseball, and it was a dilemma many light-skinned African Americans faced. Unfortunately for Dick Brookins, who adamantly denied being a black man, just appearing to be an African American was enough to derail his pro career. Billy Williams was on record that he “never found his color a bar to his recognition for what he is worth.” Dick Brookins certainly did, although as the Regina Morning Leader once noted without irony, “the Indian has accepted the situation in the stoical manner natural to his race.”[fn]Wisconsin Weekly Advocate (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), December 10, 1903; Rich Necker, “The Brookins Banishment—a stain on the reputation of the W.C.B.L.,” Western Canada Baseball www.attheplate.com/wcbl/profile_brookins_dick.html, November 30, 2010; Regina Morning Leader (Saskatchewan, Canada), June 7, 1910.[/fn]

TODD PETERSON is a Kansas City-based visual artist, historian, and educator. The Twin Cities native has published several articles on the Negro Leagues, and is the author of “Early Black Baseball In Minnesota,” published in 2010 by McFarland and Company.




 Aberdeen Daily News (South Dakota)

Chaska Weekly Valley Herald

Duluth News Tribune

Eau Claire Leader (Wisconsin)

Goodhue County News

Grand Forks Evening Times (North Dakota)

Hibbing Daily Tribune

La Crosse Tribune (Wisconsin)

Lester Prairie News

Litchfield News Ledger

Minneapolis Spokesman

Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Minneapolis Tribune

Minnesota Messenger

Moberly Evening Democrat (Missouri)

Moberly Evening Monitor (Missouri)

Moberly Sunday Morning Monitor (Missouri)

Moberly Weekly Monitor (Missouri)

National Advocate

Northwestern Bulletin

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern (Wisconsin)

Red Wing Republican

Regina Morning Leader (Saskatchewan, Canada)

St. Paul Appeal

St. Paul Dispatch

St. Paul Globe

St. Paul Pioneer Press

Winona Newspaper Project (www.winona.edu/library)

Note: All newspapers listed were published in Minnesota unless otherwise noted.

Books and Articles

Dixon, Phil with Hannigan, Patrick J. The Negro Baseball Leagues: A Photographic History. Mattituck, New York: Amereon House, 1992.

Folwell, William Watts. A History Of Minnesota; Volume IV. St. Paul, Minnesota: Minnesota Historical Society (1929), 1969 edition.

Necker, Rich. “The Brookins Banishment—a stain on the reputation of the W.C.B.L.” www.attheplate.com/wcbl/profile_brookins_dick.html.

Riley, James A. The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues. NewYork: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2002.


Websites consulted include http://www.ancestry.com, http://Baseball-Reference.com, http://GenealogyBank.com, http://Hibbing.org, http://www.mcpl.lib.mo.us (Mid-Continent Public Library), and http://NewspaperArchive.com.