Effa Manley co-owned the Newark Eagles with her husband, Abe. In 2006 the Special Committee on Negro Leagues elected her to the National Baseball Hall of Fame for her work as a baseball executive. As of 2019, she was the only woman inducted into the Hall of Fame.
On March 27, 1897, in Philadelphia, seamstress Bertha Brooks gave birth to a daughter, Effa Louise. The father was not Bertha’s husband, John R. Brooks, a black man, but John Marcus Bishop, a wealthy white man who employed Bertha. In a 1977 interview, Effa Manley said that Brooks successfully sued Bishop for alienating the affections of his wife and received damages in the amount of $10,000.1 John Brooks and Bertha divorced after having four children together. Bertha later married Benjamin Cole and they had two daughters.
Sometime after high school, Effa Brooks revised her birth year to 1900. The census records from 1910 and 1920 list a birth year of 1897 as do high-school transcripts. With her marriage to Abe Manley in 1933, her birth year shifted to 1900. She claimed a birth year of 1900 in an 1977 interview and that was the year on her grave marker.
Throughout her life, most people who met Effa, including those in the Negro Leagues, believed she was African American. Effa grew up in a household with half-siblings who were of mixed parentage and lived in neighborhoods that had a majority black population so many assumed that she was African American. As a young adult, she would present herself as white when it suited her; she did so, for example, to secure better positions in employment. All four of Effa’s husbands were black. She had no children. In a 1977 interview, Effa stated that her race was white. She recalled that Bertha clearly told her more than once that she was white. The 1870 census listed mulatto as race of both Bertha and her mother Agnes. The listing of mulatto for Bertha may have come from her father, who might have been black. The census listing for Agnes was probably related to the classification of her daughter as her parents were from Germany. The censuses of 1910 and 1920 noted the race of Bertha Brooks Cole as black. That determination made by the census taker may have been due to her parentage or her marriages to African-Americans. Despite her possible mixed maternal family heritage, Effa Manley argued later in her life that she was a white woman because she was the daughter of two white parents. Whatever the details of her genealogy may have been, Effa lived as part of the African American community all of her life.
Effa Brooks grew up in Philadelphia. She attended Newton Grammar School and graduated from William Penn Central High School in 1916. She then moved to New York City, where she lived in Harlem and worked at a millinery shop in Manhattan in a position she likely secured by presenting herself as white.2 She continued to work in this industry until she began her career in baseball. By 1920, she and her first husband, George Bush, a chauffeur whom she had met in Atlantic City, lived on West 142nd Street in Manhattan.3 They later divorced.
The year 1932 marked a major change in Effa Manley’s life. A baseball fan who rooted for Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees, she recounted meeting her second husband, Abraham Manley, at the 1932 World Series.4 If correct, the two met on either September 28 or 29, 1932, at one of the Yankees home games. They may have met earlier as evidenced by an event co-hosted by the Manleys on January 29, 1932, in Camden, New Jersey.5 Whenever they met, they were married by the Manhattan city clerk on June 15, 1933. Their marriage would last until Abe’s death in 1952.
After their marriage, the couple moved to 741 St. Nicholas Avenue in the Sugar Hill area of Harlem. On November 13, 1934, the National Negro League (NNL) owners awarded Abe a franchise, the Brooklyn Eagles. The team played at Ebbets Field, the home of the major-league Brooklyn Dodgers. Eagles players included Leon Day, Rap Dixon, and Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe. Abe Manley may have owned the Eagles franchise, but it was Effa who would soon oversee the day-to-day management of the team.
On their first Opening Day as the Eagles’ owners — Saturday, May 11, 1935 — Effa brought in New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia to throw out the first pitch. The Homestead Grays trounced the Eagles, 21-7, and Effa recounted, “I never saw so many home runs in my life. … I went home in the third inning and had my first drink of whiskey.”6 The team ended the season in sixth place of eight teams. The next season, the Manleys purchased the Newark Dodgers, combined the roster with that of the Brooklyn Eagles, and relocated to Ruppert Stadium in Newark.
The Manleys worked to improve the management of the NNL. In March 1936, the owners elected Abe Manley vice president and the next year as treasurer. Initially, Effa worked behind the scenes with Abe and completed much of his work for the league. She moved into a more active and public role at the owners meeting in January 1937 in Philadelphia when she suggested changes for how to improve the league. Like Abe, she suggested that the league operate more formally.7
In 1938 the Manleys moved to an apartment at 55 Somerset Street and an office at 101 Montgomery in the Third Ward of Newark. In 1941 they purchased a three-story house at 71 Crawford Street.8 By this time, Effa was publicly overseeing the day-to-day operations, marketing, and fiscal management of the Newark Eagles. She also took over the task of press interviews from Abe. In addition to assuming those responsibilities, Effa arranged playing schedules, booked accommodations for the players on the road, publicized the games, purchased equipment, and negotiated contracts.9 She also kept an eye on the behavior of the players. Pitcher James Walker said, “Mrs. Manley was the disciplinarian of the team. 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.”10
In addition to her work in baseball, Effa actively worked in support of civil rights and supported numerous charitable endeavors. She organized boycotts against businesses owned by whites who would not hire black employees for any position other than that of elevator operator. She raised money for the Harlem Women’s Club, which became the Citizens League for Fair Play. Effa pressured Blumstein Department Store in Harlem to not discriminate in their hiring. Those picketing the store carried signs that said, “We Won’t Shop Where We Can’t Work.” Six weeks after efforts began, on July 26, 1934, the store owner agreed to hire black woman as sales clerks.11 In 1937 Effa turned to raising funds for the victims of flooding in the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys.12 She was also treasurer of the New Jersey National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).13 Her work for civil rights was also on the baseball diamond. She hosted an anti-lynching campaign at Ruppert Stadium during which the ushers wore sashes that read “Stop Lynching.”14
The start of World War II saw many changes in professional baseball and American society. Teams replaced players who went into the service, managed bus travel restricted by gasoline rationing, and provided entertainment for war workers. Effa supported the war effort through her work as a local warden for the Newark Defense Council, for the Price Control Board, and by purchasing bonds offered by the Colored Women’s Division of the Jersey City War Savings Committee. She often arranged for black entertainers to travel to Fort Dix, New Jersey, on the Eagles’ team bus. She became secretary and treasurer of the Women’s Volunteer War Service Committee.15
In 1946, it took seven games for the Newark Eagles to defeat the Kansas City Monarchs to become the Negro League champions. Managed by James “Biz” Mackey for the second time, the 1946 team ended the season with a record of 56-24-3.16 The home attendance for the Eagles was their best ever at 120,292 and the Manleys’ profit for the season was $25,000.17 The team that year had four future Hall of Fame players — Leon Day, Larry Doby, Monte Irvin, and Biz Mackey — and one future Hall of Fame executive, Effa Manley. Between 1935 and 1948, the team included three other future Hall of Famers, Ray Dandridge, Mule Suttles, and Willie Wells.
The 1946 season was the high point for the Manleys. That year Jackie Robinson integrated Organized Baseball when he played with the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers’ Triple-A farm team. The 1947 season saw a major drop in attendance for the Eagles and a reduction in revenue for the Manleys. However, Effa set an important precedent for major-league teams that signed players from Negro League teams when Bill Veeck, owner of the Cleveland Indians, offered to purchase the contract of Larry Doby from the Eagles for $10,000.18 The Manleys knew the offer undervalued Doby, but they did not want to appear to stand in the way of integration. Ever the businesswoman aware of issues of race, Effa Manley responded to the offer by saying, “Mr. Veeck, you know if Larry Doby were white and a free agent, you’d give him $100,000 to sign with you merely as a bonus. However, I realize I’m in no position to be bargaining with you. If you feel you’re being fair by offering us $10,000, I suppose we should accept.”19 Veeck offered an additional $5,000 if Doby remained with the team for 30 days. Effa also insisted that Veeck offer Doby $5,000, which was more than the $4,000 salary he earned with the Eagles.20 Veeck agreed and Doby integrated the American League when he joined the Indians on July 5, 1947.
After the 1948 season, the Manleys disbanded the Eagles and sold the club to W.H. Young, a dentist from Memphis, Tennessee.21 That same year the Negro National League merged its remaining teams with the Negro American League. The last act the Manleys oversaw as owners of the Eagles include the sale of Monte Irvin’s contract to the New York Giants. The Dodgers had released Irvin from a contract after Effa hired a lawyer and submitted a complaint with the offices of the commissioner of baseball, the head of the minor leagues, the National League, and the American Association. Members of the black press were concerned that she had prevented Irvin from signing with a major-league team.22 But Irvin debuted with the New York Giants on July 8, 1949.
Abe Manley died in 1952. Effa married Henry Moton Clinton on December 25, 1953, in Washington DC. The marriage lasted until August 1954.23 In 1955 Effa sold the house at 71 Crawford Street and moved to Philadelphia to be near her family.24 She continued her social activism as a member of the Community Council for the Blind, the Junior Service League, the Concert Series Association, and the Friends of the Heritage House.25
Her final move was to Southern California. She married musician Charles Wesley Alexander on December 2, 1956, in Los Angeles. They lived at 4322 Kenwood Avenue. The marriage lasted only about a year and Effa said later than she regretted both marriages after her marriage to Abe.26 She purchased a house at 451 North Occidental Blvd. in Los Angeles. She continued a relationship with baseball. In 1957 she wrote to Walter O’Malley, owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, suggesting that the Dodgers pay each remaining Negro American League team for a first option on player contracts. O’Malley turned the letter over to general manager Buzzie Bavasi, who apparently did not respond.27 In the 1970s, Effa participated in the effort to name a field after former Negro Leaguer Chet Brewer, who managed a local baseball program for boys.28
Effa worked to preserve the history of the Negro Leagues and to celebrate their best players. In 1976 she collaborated with Leon Herbert Hartwick to write Negro Baseball … Before Integration, which was one of the earliest publications about Negro League baseball. She pressured Fred Claire, the Dodgers publicity director, to recognize Negro League players, and also supported efforts to include them in the Hall of Fame.
In 1971 the Hall of Fame created the Special Committee on the Negro Leagues to elect Negro League players. The committee disbanded in 1977 after electing nine players. Effa began a letter-writing campaign with the goal of establishing a new committee to review all players from the Negro Leagues and to select those to have their names inscribed on a plaque. On June 20, 1977, The Sporting News’s editor, C.C. Johnson Spink, penned a full column about the quest of a “furious woman.”29 In 1978, Manley attended the Second Annual Negro Baseball League Reunion as the special honoree. In 2006 the Hall of Fame established another committee on Negro Leagues, which elected 17 more Negro Leagues figures, including Effa Manley, who was the first woman to receive such recognition.30
Effa’s health was in decline in the spring of 1981 and she moved into the Queen Ann Manor, a rest home managed by former Negro Leaguer Quincy Trouppe. Doctors diagnosed her with colon cancer and she developed peritonitis after surgery on April 8. In the early evening of April 16, Effa Manley suffered a heart attack and died at Queen of Angels Hospital in Los Angeles. A funeral Mass was held at Our Lady of Loretto Catholic Church and she was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California. Her tombstone reads, “She Loved Baseball.”31
An updated version of this biography is included in the book "The Newark Eagles Take Flight: The Story of the 1946 Negro League Champions" (SABR, 2019), edited by Frederick C. Bush and Bill Nowlin.
1 Effa Manley interview by William Marshall for the University of Kentucky Libraries A.B. Chandler Oral History Project, North Rutherford, New Jersey, October 26, 1977.
2 Bob Luke, The Most Famous Woman in Baseball: Effa Manley and the Negro Leagues (Dulles, Virginia: Potomac Books, 2011), 3.
3 1920 US Census.
4 John Holway, Voices from the Great Black Baseball Leagues (New York: Dover Publications, 2012), 319.
5 Luke, 6.
6 Holway, 320.
7 Luke, 25.
8 James Overmyer, Queen of the Negro Leagues: Effa Manley and the Newark Eagles (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1993), 71.
9 Overmyer, 75-76.
10 Overmyer, 96.
11 Luke, 8.
12 Luke, 26-27.
13 Donn Rogosin, Invisible Men: Life in Baseball’s Negro Leagues (New York: Atheneum, 1985), 94.
14 Gai Ingham Berlage, “Effa Manley: A Major Force in Negro Baseball in the 1930s and 1940s,” in Bill Kirwin, ed., Out of the Shadows: African American Baseball from the Cuban Giants to Jackie Robinson (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005), 129.
15 Overmyer, 167-168.
17 Overmyer, 202-203.
18 The Brooklyn Dodgers did not compensate the Kansas City Monarchs for Jackie Robinson’s contract.
19 Effa Manley and Leon Herbert Hardwick (Robert Cvornyek, editor), Negro Baseball … Before Integration (Haworth, New Jersey: St. Johann Press, 2006), 74-75.
20 Manley and Hardwick, 76-77.
21 Overmyer, 241.
22 Overmyer, 240-243.
23 Luke, 154.
24 Overmyer, 248.
25 Luke, 154.
26 Effa Manley interview by William Marshall.
27 Luke, 156.
28 Luke, 127.
29 Overmyer, 254-255.
30 Luke, 162.
31 Overmyer, 256.