William D. Foster, from Wikipedia.
A few years ago I wrote about a silent film called As the World Rolls On (1921), a Jack Johnson vehicle that featured footage of actual Negro league baseball games as an integral part of its plot. I didn’t realize it then, but there’s actually an earlier film about black professional baseball.
In 1910 William D. Foster (no relation to Rube Foster), a sportswriter and theatrical agent who wrote for the Chicago Defender under the name Juli Jones, Jr., founded the Foster Film Company (also known as the Foster Photoplay Company). Based in Chicago, it is commonly recognized as the first African-American-owned film company. In 1913 Foster directed The Railroad Porter, the first film with an all-black cast and director.
The following year Foster turned his attention to baseball, and produced a newsreel called The Colored Championship Baseball Game. The subject matter was the recent series between the Chicago American Giants and the Brooklyn Royal Giants, played from August 30 through September 7, 1914, in Chicago’s Schorling Park, and advertised as the “world’s negro championship series.”
I don’t know how long the series was originally scheduled to go, or if it was even a “best of” series or (more likely) just a set number of games that got christened a “championship series” for publicity purposes. In any event, it was not a contest. The Royal Giants suffered through 20 consecutive scoreless innings to start the series, and their bats never did get going, as Rube Foster’s pitchers held them to 12 runs in seven games (with Foster himself contributing a 4-to-2 win in game 4). The American Giants swept the Royals 7 games to none, by a collective score of 32 to 12.
From the title, it appears that William Foster’s film only showed one game, though there’s no way to know which one it could be. Possibly one of the two Sunday games (August 30 and September 6), which had big crowds, or maybe the contest on September 2, the day Rube Foster himself took the mound. Here’s the only contemporary description of the film I found, by Sylvester Russell in the Indianapolis Freeman (September 12, 1914, p. 5):
This is one of the most enticing prospects a Negro league historian will ever encounter: the possibility of in-game footage of players like Pete Hill, John Henry Lloyd, and Bill Monroe of the American Giants, or Charlie Earle, Jules Thomas, or the submarine thrower Dizzy Dismukes of the Royals.
Unfortunately, like As the World Rolls On and the film of the St. Louis Giants’ 1919 opening day, The Colored Baseball Championship Game almost certainly doesn’t exist anymore. Fully 75 percent of feature silent films released by major studios from 1914 to 1929 are lost. The figures for non-feature films (educational films, newsreels, documentaries, short films) must be even worse.
But who knows? Maybe somewhere, in some dusty archive, footage of Rube Foster and his American Giants squaring off against the Brooklyn Royal Giants survives.
The 1914 Chicago American Giants
UPDATE 11:28 pm: Added the Freeman passage from 1914, which I had accidentally left out.