Benjamin Harrison, 23rd President of the United States; Stanislaus Kostka Govern, manager of the New York Gorhams.
A couple of years ago I wrote about Cubs owner Charles P. Taft attending, and enjoying, a Leland Giants game in 1908 during the Republican Convention that nominated his brother, William Howard Taft, for the presidency of the United States. The younger Taft duly won the election that November, and went on to invent the tradition of the President throwing out the first ball of the major league season. This, I thought, marked the closest approach between the Negro leagues and the White House during the whole era of segregated baseball. I was wrong.
It was summer, 1891. The White House was under renovation and uninhabitable for several months. Benjamin Harrison, now known mainly as the answer to various trivia questions involving Grover Cleveland, repaired with his wife to Cape May Point, New Jersey, where his Postmaster General, John Wanamaker, had given him a vacation cottage. This would later cause a minor scandal, with Harrison finally writing a $10,000 check to Wanamaker to cover the cost of the gift. But that summer, the cottage at Cape May became the White House on the Jersey Shore, with the president entertaining cabinet members and ambassadors, meeting with legislators and judges, and conducting the nation’s business—when he wasn’t attending concerts and strolling along the beach…or attending baseball games.
On August 15, the President, accompanied by Pennsylvania State Senator John E. Reyburn, went to Cape May’s Athletic Park to witness a game between the local semipro nine, the Cape May Athletic Association, and the New York Colored Gorhams. Managed by S. K. Govern, this was the team that was known as the “Big Gorhams,” because it brought together nearly all the top black stars of the day, most of them former Cuban Giants: George Williams, Arthur Thomas, Billy Selden, eventual Hall of Famers Sol White and Frank Grant. White would later write that the Big Gorhams were “without a doubt one of the strongest teams ever gotten together, white or black” (Sol White’s Official Base Ball Guide, p. 25). With Selden in the box, they dispatched the locals handily, 5 to 0:
Harrison, it was reported, “appeared very much interested in the game and applauded all the good plays”:
As far as I know, Benjamin Harrison was the only sitting President of the United States to watch a game involving a black professional team during the whole era of segregated baseball. I had never really thought much about this until I ran across this game by accident while looking for something else, so I could easily be wrong—if anybody knows about another case, fill me in.
UPDATE 5/26/2014 According to John Thorn, Harrison also became, on June 6, 1892, the first sitting president to attend a major league baseball game.
UPDATE 5.29.2014 Turns out Scott Simkus beat me to the punch on this game in the July 11, 2012, issue of Outsider Baseball Bulletin.