Ownership in the Negro Leagues was a tough and sometimes precarious job and finances often were the determining factor in whether or not an owner could hang on to a team. In addition to the difficulty of financial stability, female owners had to battle the sexist attitudes of the other owners and society as a whole when they got involved with a team. One of the most respected owners in the Negro Leagues was Cumberland Willis Posey, who owned the successful Homestead Grays for many years, while working with his business partner Rufus “Sonnyman” Jackson, a racketeer, and his brother Seward (See) Posey. After an illness that lasted several months, Posey died in 1946 and left a partnership in the team to his widow, Ethel Posey. His actual 13-word will stated that he left his entire estate, estimated at $3,000, to his widow.1
Ethel Posey became a part of the management team, but she did not take an active role in the team. Jackson continued to serve as the Grays’ president and brother-in-law Seward Posey retained his position as the business manager. After Jackson died in March 1949 Mrs. Posey and Helen Jackson continued to operate the team before turning it over to See, who did not believe that a woman had any business running the team and wanted to buy her out. Mrs. Posey, wanting to protect her husband’s legacy and name, resisted for nearly three years before selling her share.2
Ethel Shaw Truman and Cum Posey had been married in 1913, when she was just 20, and they had four daughters, Ethel, Mary, Anne, and Beatrice. Their daughter Ethel married pitcher Ray Brown. While Posey was often on the road with the Grays, Mrs. Posey stayed at home with the girls. That did not mean she did not take an interest in the team or have a role to play. Ethel Posey said that she tended to be the steadying influence on her husband, providing counsel and logic when he often wanted to act too quickly. He consulted her on financial issues in particular, which gave her insights into the running of the club after he died.3
After turning over the ballclub to her brother-in-law, Mrs. Posey went to work for the Allegheny County Prothonotary Office until her retirement in 1963. She also served as a member of the Homestead District School Board for 23 years and was a member of the local Samedi Club and the Junior Mothers. In 1984 she moved to Atlanta to be closer to her daughter Beatrice, and she died there due to a heart ailment in 1986. Beatrice moved to New York City, where she spent many years working for the city’s Board of Education, before she died in 1998.4
In describing Ethel Posey’s role with the team, retired Pittsburgh Courier city editor Frank Bolden said, “Mrs. Posey was supportive of everything her husband did with the team. You might put her in the same class with any of the wives of well-known baseball magnates.”5 Others saw Mrs. Posey as a mother to many of the young men who moved to the North to play for the Grays. A number of Grays players were from the rural South and had never been to a big city. She helped them find places to live, occasionally cooked meals, and generally watched out for them. When asked about her new role with the ballclub after her husband’s death, Mrs. Posey asserted, “I am confident that Mr. Jackson and I will get along together. I am not unfamiliar with the operation of a baseball club and will content myself with being an observer throughout the seasons.”6 Though her role indeed appears to have been that of an observer, Ethel Posey nonetheless belongs to the fairly small group of women who have owned a professional baseball team, white or black.
This biography appears in "Bittersweet Goodbye: The Black Barons, the Grays, and the 1948 Negro League World Series" (SABR, 2017), edited by Frederick C. Bush and Bill Nowlin.
1 Pittsburgh Press, April 22, 1946: 11.
3 Uniontown (Pennsylvania) Morning Herald, March 29, 1946; Chester (Pennsylvania) Times, April 11, 1946.
4 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 1, 1998: 25.
5 “Ethel T. Posey, Wife of Founder of Grays Team,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, November 27, 1986: C4.
6 “Widow Gets Grays’ Share,” Uniontown Morning Herald, April 12, 1946: 24.