In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in professional baseball and became the first African American to play on a Major League team. For many other black players, segregated Negro League teams offered them the only opportunity to play baseball for a living. Although Colorado Springs lacked a Negro Leagues team, many local young men played on the city’s semi-pro, all black baseball team. Originally called the Clouds of Joy, the team soon changed their name to the Brown Bombers in honor of Heavyweight Boxing Champion Joe Louis.
Organized shortly after World War II, the team played in the extremely competitive City Baseball League. This group of talented young athletes won back-to-back championships in 1949 and 1950. Additionally, the team occasionally traveled to Grand Junction, Canon City, Burlington, Limon and other towns around the state to play.
Playing in a community and nation grappling with the issues of exclusion and segregation, the experiences of the Brown Bombers were not always positive. Both in town and on the road members of the team experienced both subtle and overt forms of racism. The Brown Bombers typically limited their travel to one-day road trips as they were often denied hotel accommodations. Players dealt with discrimination by “focusing on the game” and “meeting problems as they came.” Outfielder Sylvester “Smitty” Smith remembered,
“On weekends you would be away and you’d never know if you could eat in the restaurants or need a sack lunch, or if the bus was going to break down. But other than that it was just fun for me.”
During the 1950s, the role of baseball in Colorado Springs changed. The importance of the City League diminished after the city’s new minor league team – the Colorado Springs Sky Sox came to town. One of the most popular members of the Sky Sox team was Sam Hairston, its first African American player. In 1955, Hairston led his team with 102 runs batted in and was voted Most Valuable Player. A “Sam Hairston Night” was held in Memorial Park Stadium to honor his athletic talent and service to youth in the community. Local business owners gave Hairston and his family a brand new Pontiac and a set of luggage among other gifts.
Leah Davis Witherow, CSPM Curator of History