Bill White breaks racial barriers in St. Petersburg through Major League Baseball
Sara M. McDonald, Special Projects Coordinator
Bill White didn’t plan on breaking barriers in baseball, but it just happened. Coming from a family of sharecroppers, Bill White’s education was of the upmost priority, especially to his mother, Edna Mae Young. She wanted him to become a doctor. So, he went to Ohio State for medical school, where he played football, basketball, and baseball, until he signed a contract to play Major League Baseball, after scouts saw him playing in the Amateur League.
The New York Giants were the first team to hire him, but then he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, which meant he would spend his spring training in the south – in St. Petersburg, Florida. Although it was fourteen years after Jackie Robinson’s debut into Major League baseball, the spring training sights in St. Petersburg were still segregated.
When we [The Florida Holocaust Museum] interviewed Bill White for our exhibition Beaches, Benches, and Boycotts he remembered, “Getting off the plane, going to the hotel, and being told I couldn’t stay there. Then they got a black cab to take me to the black area where we stayed.” This was a bit of a shock for White as he was able to stay in a hotel when he attended spring training in Arizona when playing for the Giants.
This meant that the African American baseball players were not allowed to stay in the same hotel as the rest of their team. They had to stay with local families, like the Wimbish and Swain families, who would house African American athletes and celebrities in their homes. “They made things a lot easier for us when we went to St. Petersburg so at least away from the park we could relax and have fun and talk about how we were gonna fight segregation, because he [Dr. Ralph Wimbish] was a fighter, he was a heck of a fighter.”
Not being able to stay in the hotel was not the only restriction White and the athletes had. Like all African American citizens at that time, the yacht club, green benches, restaurants, and many other businesses were all off limits.
They also were not invited to the Chamber of Commerce’s yearly “Salute to Baseball” breakfast, in which Mr. White asked a reporter, “when will we be made to feel like humans?” The next year, after having gone public with this injustice caused unwanted publicity, Bill White attended the breakfast, just one of the many racial barriers he broke throughout his career.
Bill White’s interview is currently on display here at The Florida Holocaust Museum within our Beaches, Benches, and Boycotts exhibition. This exhibition illuminates our region’s struggle with racial equality and shines a light on the local leaders who changed our cities. The exhibition is on display at The Florida Holocaust Museum through March 1, 2020.
Headshot of Bill White photo credit: Society for American Baseball Research / SABR.org
Thank you LWP Productions [firstname.lastname@example.org] and Bill White for working with us for our interview and exhibition.