When Black Folks Owned Baseball Stadiums in Memphis: Dr. John B. Martin, The Martin Brothers & The Negro League


Memphis Red Sox players in front of dugout.

Dr. John B. Martin (1885-1973), often referred to as J. B. Martin, was president of Negro League associations and owned the Memphis Red Sox (1923-1950) and the Chicago American Giants (1937-1950) baseball teams. While many people often refer to the "Negro League", this is a general term used to refer to a number of associations that included the Negro National League, the Negro American League, the Negro Southern League, as well as smaller leagues such as the Negro Dixie League. J. B. Martin served as president of the National Southern League, the National American League and the Negro Dixie League was one of the several Negro leagues created during the time organized during the time organized American baseball was segregated.

A Black-owned Sports Stadium: An Enterprising Black Family

The Memphis Red Sox was a Negro League baseball team founded in 1923 by J. B. Martin and Dr. B. B. Martin, brothers in a prominent African-American family in Memphis. The Martin brothers were both dentists with prominent dental practices. J. B. Martin was a dentist, pharmacist, operated a funeral parlor, invested in real estate and Republican political leader. He built the Martin baseball park where he owned and operated the concession stands. He also owned a hotel nearby the baseball field in Memphis, as well as enterprises on Beale Street.

J.B. Martin's family members were also quite enterprising. In addition to a dental practice, his brother Dr. B. B. Martin acted as the Red Sox business manager and served as an officer in the National Southern League. Dr. A. T. Martin worked as a general practitioner for fifty years and worked with the Red Sox for 25 years. Dr. William S. Martin, was superintendent of the Collins Chapel Hospital for 35 years, in addition to serving as an officer for the Red Sox and the Negro American League, as well as serving as president of the Negro Southern League. The four Martins, all Black doctors, were prominent in the Memphis community and within the Negro League franchises.

Negro League's Black-owned Martin Stadium in Memphis.
  In 1920, the Martin brothers built Martin Stadium on what is now Crump Boulevard and Danny Thomas, making the Red Sox one of the few baseball clubs in the Negro League with their own ballpark. Most Negro League teams played in white team parks when the white teams were on the road. Not only did the Memphis Red Sox have a stadium, J. B. Martin also owned a hotel near the park. The baseball park was built from scratch, but not without resistance from the White supremacy establishment in Memphis under what was called the "Crump Machine." Edward Hull Crump governed Memphis for decades through manipulation of both the Black and White vote into a political machine that enabled him to control Memphis politics. When J. B. Martin, a Black Republican, denounced Crump in 1939, Crump responded with mounting pressure on Martin using the Memphis police, such as targeting Martin's Beale Street businesses with raids. The Martin Stadium originally had a capacity of 3,000, but grew to nearly 7,000 seat capacity. It was demolished in 1961.

The Memphis Red Sox


The Memphis Red Sox were initially organized by Robert S. Lewis, a Memphis funeral director, in the early 1920s. When the Martin's purchased the independent team in 1924, the team joined the Negro National League and B. B. Martin acted as the Red Sox business manager. In 1926, the franchise left the Negro National League and joined the newly-established Negro Southern League for its inaugural season. In 1932, it rejoined the Negro Southern League with subsequent seasons as an independent team. In 1937, the Red Sox became a charter member of the Negro American League, where they remained until their dissolution in 195X. Four players associated with the Memphis Red Sox were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame: Satchel Paige, James "Cool Papa" Bell, Willy Wells, and Turkey Steams.

The Chicago American Giants

 The Negro Leagues began to diminish after Brooklyn's Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. In 1949, J. B. Martin leased the Chicago American Giants to William Little because he wanted to spend more tie managing the affairs of the Negro American League Martin appointed Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe as manager of the Chicago American Giants in 1950. This was three years after Jackie Robinson broke the color line. Martin was concerned about Black players joining Major League teams so he instructed Radcliffe to sign White players. The team disbanded in 1952. The Negro American League disbanded after its 1962 season. 


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