Stranger than Fiction

This year, KHC features weekly posts related to the Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition Hometown Teams, currently touring Kansas.

The Western League Association Ball Park hosted a game between the Wichita Monrovians African-American baseball team and the KKK in 1925.  Image Courtesy Lawrence and Lucile Wulfmeyer Genealogy/Special Collections Center, Wichita Public Library.

The Western League Association Ball Park hosted a game between the Wichita Monrovians African-American baseball team and the KKK in 1925. Image Courtesy Lawrence and Lucile Wulfmeyer Genealogy/Special Collections Center, Wichita Public Library.

On June 21, 1925, Wichita’s Island Park ball field hosted a baseball game so strange that people are still talking about it 90 years later.

It was an unlikely match-up, to say the least: the entirely African American Wichita Monrovians baseball team versus the local Ku Klux Klan. And to add to the bizarreness, the teams hired Catholic umpires—just to make sure there was no favoritism involved.

It’s not hard to see why the Monrovians were willing to play the KKK. They were a professional baseball team, after all, with a sizeable economic stake in the local African American population, often funneling their earnings back into the community; any chance at new fans, black or white, was worth considering.

Even more importantly, however, the Monrovians saw the game as a chance to demonstrate their skills in a way that could strike a subtle blow for equality both on and off the baseball diamond.

The reasoning behind the KKK’s desire to play the Monrovians is less clear. Why would white supremacists willingly compete against an all-black team when there was a chance they would lose? (Not a small chance, either: the Monrovians dominated the Colored Western League in its only year of existence. They were, by all accounts, a very good team.)

According to Only A Game, the game amounted to a public relations move for the Klan, who by 1925 were struggling to maintain a presence in Kansas:

“They were on their way out,” [Kansas historian Donna Rae] Pearson said. “…it was kind of one of those last ditch efforts to say, ‘Hey, we’re really not so bad, we’ll play with them, see?’”

It didn’t work. The Monrovians won the game, 10-8, and the Klan was officially booted from Kansas in 1927.