First lady of Black baseball honored

Effa Louise Manley

Effa Louise Manley

Effa Louise Manley was an American sports executive, and the first woman inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. She co-owned the Newark Eagles baseball franchise in the Negro leagues with her husband Abe Manley from 1935 to 1946 and was sole owner through 1948 after his death. Throughout that time, she served as the team’s business manager and fulfilled many of her husband’s duties as treasurer of the Negro National League.

Manley was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she attended school. In 1916, she graduated from Penn Central High School, completing vocational training there in cooking, oral expression and sewing.

Manley’s racial background is not completely known. It has been written her biological parents may have been White, but she was raised by her Black stepfather and White mother, leading most to assume her stepfather was her biological father and therefore to classify her as Black.

Daryl Russell Grigsby wrote: “…some insist she was a White woman exposed to Black culture, who identified as Black. Regardless of her ethnic origins, Effa Manley thought of herself as a Black woman and was perceived by all who knew her as just that.”

According to the book The Most Famous Woman in Baseball by Bob Luke, Effie was born through an extramarital union between her African American seamstress mother, Bertha Ford Brooks, and Bertha’s White employer, Philadelphia stockbroker John Marcus Bishop; therefore she may actually have been of mixed heritage.

In an interview she gave, she seemed to enjoy the confusion her skin color created. She related a story of when her husband, Abe Manley, took her to Tiffany’s in New York for an engagement ring. She picked out a huge five-carat stone. She remarked at how every salesgirl in the store was on hand to get a glimpse of this “old Negro man buying this young White girl a five-carat ring” and how she got a kick out it. In 1977, Manley was interviewed for an oral history project which is archived at the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky Libraries and is available online.

Her influence extended beyond baseball. She was active in the Civil Rights Movement and a social activist. Before the civil rights movement, Manley supported ‘Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work’ boycotts. As part of her work for the Citizens’ League for Fair Play, Manley organized a 1934 boycott of stores that refused to hire Black salesclerks. After six weeks, the owners of the store (Blumstein’s Department Store) gave in, and by the end of 1935 some 300 stores on 125th Street employed Blacks. Manley was the treasurer of the Newark chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and often used Eagles games to promote civic ca-
uses. In 1939 she held an ‘Anti-Lynching Day’ at Ruppert Stadium.

At this time, most Blacks were barred from practicing medicine. The Booker T. Washington Community Hospital, which offered training for colored doctors and nurses, opened due in a large part to money raised from the Newark Eagles. They played numerous benefit games to raise money for new medical equipment. They also raised money for Black Elks lodges, a major part of urban Black social life. The Eagles worked especially hard for groups that promoted the welfare of Newark’s Black population. In an exhibit honoring the Negro leagues at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, there is a banner given to the team by the Newark Student Camp Fund in recognition of their efforts to help the community. Another example of the relationship Effa helped forge with the community was copying a practice of another team, which allowed the city’s youth to attend games for free. Some children could afford the ten cent fare for the bus ride while others jump on the back of a moving bus to take advantage of the free ballgames. Because of Effa Manley, the Newark Eagles were as important to Black Newark as the Dodgers were to Brooklyn.

She was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in February 2006.