Eddie Whitehead: Breaking I.U.’s Color Barrier in Baseball

Eddie Whitehead, IU Archives, Image no. P0052290

Throughout 2019, Major League Baseball will honor the centennial of Jackie Robinson’s birth. Robinson made history in 1947 when he broke professional baseball’s color barrier by playing second base for the then-Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson’s courageous actions spurred the racial integration of the sport, ending decades of segregated baseball. In 1956, Robinson’s last year in the majors, Indiana University’s baseball team welcomed its first African American player, catcher Eddie Whitehead. Whitehead, a native of Madison, Indiana, joined as a sophomore and was one of five catchers on the team that year.

Though Whitehead made his debut nearly ten years after Robinson’s debut, a spring break trip through Florida and Georgia from March 26-31, 1956, illustrated the racial disharmony that was still prevalent throughout the country. At the major league level, professional baseball would not be fully integrated until 1959, when the Boston Red Sox became the last team to welcome an African American player on its roster. At the collegiate level, a strict “gentleman’s agreement” prohibiting non-professional contests between African Americans and whites was in force in the South, meaning if Whitehead played, the other teams would not play I.U. According to a March 22, 1956 press release, I.U. entered into the six games without knowledge of this agreement, thereby hindering the team’s ability to pull out of the games. After speaking with I.U. President Herman B Wells, Whitehead decided he did not want to ruin the trip for his teammates by not going, so he decided to make the journey, though he did not play as per the agreement.

In a 2017 Indiana University Bicentennial oral history interview, Whitehead’s daughter, Dr. Dawn Whitehead, recalled the stories her father told her about the trip. Traveling through the Jim Crow south was “a profound experience for him,” she said. “He often didn’t get to eat in restaurants with his teammates, and they would bring food out to the bus.” “He would also sometimes not be able to stay in the same hotels where his teammates stayed,” Whitehead recalled.

Listen to Dawn Whitehead share more memories of her father in this clip from her IU Bicentennial Oral History interview:

In a March 27, 1956, Indianapolis Times article, Eddie stated he had to eat in the hotel kitchen in Harriman, Tennessee. In Cedartown, Georgia, he ate in the car. Both times I.U. baseball coach Ernie Andres joined him. “I stayed with Eddie everywhere we went,” Andres said in an April 18, 1997 article in the Indiana Daily Student. “My only fear was that he would get hurt.”

While I.U. played Florida State, Eddie stayed at Florida A & M, a historically black college. While there, he trained with their baseball team and stayed in a dorm room. Dawn Whitehead stated staying at Florida A & M was the fondest memory of the trip for her father. Coach Andres made arrangements for Eddie to stay with African American families while the team played Florida University and Georgia Teachers. “I don’t think I could ever live down here,” Eddie said in the March 27, 1956, Indianapolis Times article. “I just couldn’t. It seems so different. Too many drawbacks.” “People look at you so cold,” Whitehead said in another Indianapolis Times article from March 28, 1956. “Like you’re something different. Like you were inferior.”

Upon the team’s return to Bloomington, Wells expressed outrage at the treatment of Whitehead. “It’s outrageous the indignities now being suffered in the South by Eddie Whitehead,” Wells stated in a March 28, 1956, Louisville Times article. “This is very distasteful to me. I’m opposed to segregation in any form. Indiana is the leader in the nation against segregation in schools as well as in athletics.” Wells received numerous letters regarding the incident. Some came from supporters, while others came from those questioning his reasoning for allowing Whitehead to go when the team knew he wouldn’t be able to play.

Scorecard from the April 24, 1956 game against Butler. Whitehead went 1-for-2 with a run scored and a triple. (Accn. # 2015/027, Box 306, “Baseball 1956.”)

Whitehead played in 12 games during the 1956 campaign. His most notable game that year occurred on April 24 against Butler. He went 1 for 2, with a triple, one base-on-balls, and two RBIs. I.U. defeated the Bulldogs in an 18-5 thrashing. At the conclusion of the season, he was awarded a varsity letter.

Whitehead graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in 1958. He became a banker, a profession in which he remained for thirty years; he also worked on the statistics crews for the Indiana Pacers and the Indianapolis Colts. Whitehead passed away on September 10, 2014, at the age of 77.

Our Lives with Animals

Throughout history, humans have interacted with animals of all kinds on a daily basis. Whether it’s our beloved cat or dog at home, or a squirrel running among the trees of Dunn’s Woods, their antics captivate us, and many times we find ourselves taking photos or videos and sharing them with our friends. Animals fascinate us, and our interactions with them help us learn and develop as humans. They provide entertainment, help with work impossible for humans to carry out alone, and aid us in research.

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The Indiana University Archives is filled with a rich, diverse collection of photos highlighting our interactions with animals, whether it be for research, for work purposes, or for our general amusement. These photos are just a small sample, but they offer a glimpse into our interactions with animals.

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Humans rely on animals to provide assistance when jobs become too difficult to perform. Clarence Flaten was the Supervisor of Photography at the I.U. Audio Visual Center from 1948-1974, and also worked in the School of Education faculty from 1958-1974. During World War II, Flaten was photographer, primarily in India. Flaten’s collection of photos from that time illustrate the value of animals in performing tasks for humans. Whether it be an elephant lifting large barrels onto cargo planes, or a camel pulling a wagon, animals help us carry out our business and perform tasks too great for human strength. (View the finding aid for C660 Clarence M. Flaten papers here. )

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Animals provide humans with invaluable information through our observations of their behaviors and genetic makeups. Beginning in 1957, I.U.’s Department of Biology hosted a breeding colony for axolotls, a member of the salamander family also known as the Mexican walking fish. The colony supplied embryos, larvae and adults to classrooms and to labs for genetic research, specifically for their regeneration ability. The colony remained at I.U. until 2005, when it was moved to the University of Kentucky.

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Scientific research helps us understand how a species has evolved over time. This Hoosier jellyfish, a member of the only freshwater species of jellyfish, was found in a flooded quarry near Bloomington in 1959, and used by an I.U. graduate student studying the evolution and distribution of the species.

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For most of us though, animals above all provide a sense of entertainment. We become obsessed with them, and we are quick to share with our friends our interactions with them. Even stuffed animals can provide a sense of fun, as evidenced by the photo of I.U. President and Chancellor Herman B Wells riding a stuffed horse in South Dakota around 1927. Wells, resplendent in furry chaps, was captured riding “Black Dynamite” about three years before his arrival at IU.

IU athletics, while lacking an official mascot, experimented for a brief time with mascot ideas. Ox the Bulldog, shown here before the Old Oaken Bucket game against Purdue in 1959, served as the mascot for I.U. football from 1959 to the mid-1960s. Later in the decade, the football team attempted using a stuffed bison as its mascot, but this also proved to be short-lived.

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Whether we interact with them for entertainment, work, or for research, animals help us conduct our daily business, and at the end of the day make us smile, and give us a reason to take a photo and share.