The existence of the Negro Leagues not only created space for Black players to rise in the game of baseball. The league also advanced Black business.
And for a woman named Effa Manley, it launched a Hall of Fame career.
“She didn’t want to play by rules and was always speaking up for what’s right.” — Andrea Williams, author of “Baseball’s Leading Lady: Effa Manley and the Rise and Fall of the Negro Leagues”
The Harlem-bred baseball fan co-owned the Newark Eagles baseball franchise with her husband, Abe Manley, from 1935 to 1948. In 2006, Manley made history as the first and only woman to be inducted into the National Hall of Fame as an executive.
Her story and legacy is the center of Andrea Williams’ latest book “Baseball’s Leading Lady: Effa Manley and the Rise and Fall of the Negro Leagues.”
While detailing the infrastructure of the Negro Leagues, Williams’ deep dive illustrates that Manley’s achievements and impact went beyond the diamond-shaped field and were fueled by her dedication to Black empowerment, civil and social justice.
Before her husband and business partner bought the Newark Eagles, she was influential in the success of the “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” movement in Harlem — a boycott against discriminatory race-based hiring practices. The campaign helped to create hiring programs and became a blueprint for direct-action civil rights protests of the 1960s.
When it came to baseball, she was significant in the fight for compensation for team owners and recognition of the Negro Leagues contracts, which boosted respect for the league in the mainstream.
“She was this incredible visionary,” says Williams. “She didn’t just have a baseball mind. She wasn’t someone who grew up and just knew all along that she was going to be in baseball and viewed everything through the sports lens. She was a Black woman who grew up in Harlem and knew what it was like for the community on the whole. She gets into baseball because of her husband, but she is automatically thinking ‘how do I leverage this platform and use it for the greater good? And we’re seeing this now.”
Listen: Author Andrea Williams talks Effa Manley’s impact on baseball.
Williams became attracted to the depths of Manley’s story while working in marketing and development at Kansas City’s Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
“What Effa did in the 1930s and ‘40s was absolutely incredible and a testament to the significance of the Negro Leagues on the whole,” says Williams. “When I got deeper into her story, and really saw how she moved and how she approached life in general, it was really inspiring to me. She didn’t want to play by rules and was always speaking up for what’s right.”