Check this out, from Mark Rucker’s amazing baseball blog at The Rucker Archive. It’s a photograph of an African American ballplayer, probably from the 1890s, taken at a photo studio in Mobile, Alabama. His shirt seems to say “Oklahoma,” which seems odd.
“It does not make sense that a uniform reading Oklahoma should be worn in the 1890s in coastal Alabama, but what could be the possible connections? Maybe there are none, but I would remember that Oklahoma was a legendary spot in the early 1890s. The Great Oklahoma Land Rush occurred in 1893, which was news nationwide. Though not yet a state, Oklahoma was well known everywhere. But, I still don’t know why the name would turn up in Mobile, and we may never know.”
I don’t have answers to all the questions posed by this photograph, but there was in fact a baseball team called the Oklahomas in Mobile, Alabama, in 1897. In late May they were in New Orleans, playing a team called the Allens, and on May 31 and June 7 they were scheduled to play the Biloxis of Biloxi, Mississippi:
This raises still more questions, though, especially this: in the 1890s, you’d expect a black team to be identified as such, in both news items and ads—yet the Oklahomas are not. (Neither are the Biloxis, for that matter.) On the other hand, if they were a particularly well-known team it might not have been necessary to label them racially. But if they were a white team, you have to wonder why a black man would be photographed wearing a jersey with their name on it—especially in the Deep South. I’ll keep looking.
UPDATE 1/31/2013 Courtesy of Bill Mullins, here are several more items showing that the Oklahomas of Mobile were indeed a “colored” nine, and naming some of the players. If the player in the photograph was a pitcher, as Mark speculates, then perhaps we are looking at a photo of Fobbs, “Prof. Beasley,” or Lacy:
(New Orleans Item, April 19, 1897 1904, p. 6)
(New Orleans Item, April 20, 1897 1904, p. 6)
(New Orleans Item, May 11, 1897 1901, p. 2)
UPDATE 2/1/2013 The New Orleans Item pieces are actually from 1901 and 1904 (my mistake, not Bill’s), so the Oklahomas were active as late as 1904.