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Bismarck, North Dakota is a very white place. Even today, the population is 92.5% white and 4.5% Native American, with all other groups at a combined 3%. Now imagine what it was like in 1935. How comfortable would it have been for an African American athlete to live and work there?
I’m originally from North Dakota, but I can’t say I’ve given a lot of thought to its diversity or lack thereof…until this week. This week, I picked up a catalog featuring reproduction baseball caps and jerseys, thinking that one of these might be a great gift for a husband who loves baseball and a wife who loves history. Looking for a Rhode Island team, I stumbled across the story of the Bismarck Churchills.
The Churchills were a Bismarck-based semi-pro team, owned and managed by Neal Churchill, who also owned the local Chrysler dealership. A competitive man by nature, Churchill wanted a winning team. He pursued and signed the players he thought were the best, largely disregarding the fact that a number of these ‘best’ players were African American. So the 1935 Churchills were a fully integrated team that included 2 future Hall of Fame pitchers from the Negro Leagues: Hilton Smith and Satchel Paige. That team finished their season 60-19-3, and won the first National Semi-Pro Championship. Paige later called it “the best team I ever played on”. Many baseball historians agree. And for the record, Paige also called Bismarck, “a fine town…fine people.”
I never knew that Bismarck had a ‘pro’ team, let alone one of that caliber. I definitely didn’t know they had pioneered integration a full 12 years before Jackie Robinson and the Color Barrier. This story felt like an undiscovered gem.
Once you start looking, these ‘gems’ are everywhere. One of my current favorite gems is Friday Night Black Light Yoga, hot yoga taught under black lights with glow sticks and a fun, funky playlist. Another is paddle boarding, a wonderfully peaceful way to start a day. And it goes without saying that I find liquid gems all the time: a delicious macadamia nut stout from Ireland, the ridiculously cheap Spanish Albarino, the improbably awesome Cabernet from Bulgaria.
Our world has many gems; I hope you find some this week.