Courtesy of Jay Sokol of Black College Nines comes this photograph of the 1897 Wilberforce University baseball team. This print belongs to Ray Lucas, whose great uncle William A. Wallace is seated in the middle row on the far left. There are names written at the bottom, but these are mostly illegible now (with a couple of exceptions).
Aside from its intrinsic interest, this photograph also piques one’s curiosity because none other than Sol White was a student at Wilberforce University in the late 1890s, splitting his time between the Cuban X-Giants in the summer and college in the winters. (Riley’s Biographical Encyclopedia incorrectly has White attending Wilberforce ten years earlier, from 1886 to 1890; in fact he went to college in his late twenties, after nearly a decade as a professional ballplayer.)
With this in mind, Jay draws our attention to the player in the back row, standing second from right. Let’s compare him to a photo of Sol White from 1909:
The Wilberforce photograph isn’t of the same quality as the later Sol White image, so I don’t think you can say with 100 percent certainty that it’s the same person. Nevertheless they match in every feature that can be compared—shape of face and jawline, ears, nose, eyes and eyebrows, distances between all these features. Nothing rules out the idea that this is Sol White.
Sol White was specifically confirmed by Jerry Malloy to have been a third-year student in the 1896/97 school year, which puts him at Wilberforce at exactly the time this photograph was taken (presumably spring 1897). Malloy mentions that White was a military cadet, but says nothing about him playing ball at Wilberforce.
White did, however, serve as an athletic instructor at Wilberforce during the 1899/1900 off-season, so he can be linked to the school’s sports program:
Based on what we know so far I’d say there’s a more than excellent chance that Sol White does indeed appear in the photo with the ’97 Wilberforce baseball team. They might be some additional information coming, though, so we’ll see if our identification of Sol White holds.
UPDATE 10:50 pm I should point out, in case anybody is wondering, that there were essentially no eligibility problems with players for black college teams spending summers with professional clubs, even as late as the 1930s. It was just not an issue.