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Williamsport Native Was Black Journalistic Pioneer and Champion for Baseball Integration

This month, of course, is Black History in which we celebrate the contributions and history of African-Americans. This month is also the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Negro leagues in baseball. One former Williamsporter was a part of that history. Frank Albert “Fay” Young is not a household name, but perhaps this remarkable

This month, of course, is Black History in which we celebrate the contributions and history of African-Americans. This month is also the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Negro leagues in baseball. One former Williamsporter was a part of that history.

Frank Albert “Fay” Young is not a household name, but perhaps this remarkable man should be. This Williamsport native was the first full-time African-American sportswriter, who promoted the exploits of athletes from “Rube” Foster, Josh Gibson, Jesse Owens, Joe Louis to members of the excellent black college teams. He was also a tireless crusader for the integration of Major League Baseball.

Not much is known of Young’s early life, what is known is that he was born in Williamsport in 1884 and by the age of eight was orphaned and moved from the area. Much of the following information comes from the Biography Resource Center at Bucknell University.

Young may have come by his writing talents naturally because his grandmother, Julia C. Collins, also of Williamsport, is reportedly the first black woman in America to publish a novel, “The Curse of Caste” in 1865.

Young attended high school in both Massachusetts and Illinois and, by the age of 16, was selling newspapers on the south side of Chicago. The newspapers he was selling were the “Chicago Defender,” one of this nation’s top newspapers, a newspaper he would write for and edit off and on for more than 40 years. 

He also worked as a railroad dining car waiter and his ability to gather bits of news from other waiters, porters, and barbers and collect various newspapers provided him information about the exploits of various black athletes and turning these tidbits into stories for the “Chicago Defender” brought him the notice of the Defender’s publisher, Robert Abbott.

Young then became a fulltime writer for the Defender, but his pay was paltry, so he had to do other work such as working as a waiter and working at the post office during the Christmas rush.

Young contributed to every aspect of publishing the “Defender” and even cooked for the night crew as they proofread galleys. When Booker T. Washington died in 1915, Young put out a special edition, a single-page tribute to Washington’s life, and personally distributed copies to the ministers at black churches in the area. The next year he was named managing editor at a salary of twenty-five dollars a week. He quickly changed jobs to become city editor and then sports editor.

It was at this time that Young became the first fulltime black sportswriter and editor in the country.

When the Negro National League was formed in 1920 by Andrew “Rube” Foster in 1920, Young became one of its most enthusiastic boosters and had a warm relationship with Foster, whose team, the Chicago American Giants, was one of the league’s early powerhouses.

As the official scorer and statistician for the Negro National League from its inception in 1920 until its dissolution in 1931, Young advocated the inclusion of blacks in the major leagues. He also criticized the Baseball Umpires Association for the bad umpiring by white officials at games played by black teams and called for the hiring of black umpires.

During the 1920s, he covered all types of sports, including the World Series, various championship boxing bouts, and track and field events. He was a key figure in the expansion of the sports programs of the nation’s historically black colleges, particularly those at Tuskegee Institute. He was the founder of the Prairie View Bowl Game in 1929, the first black post-season football bowl game.

The money ravages of the Depression caused Young to leave the “Defender” in 1934, and he spent the next three years as the managing editor of another major black newspaper, the “Kansas City Call.”

When another Negro League was formed in 1937, the Negro American League, Young, served as its secretary from 1939 to 1948.

Young, along with other major black sportswriters such as Sam Lacy and Wendell Smith, were tireless in their efforts to bring down the color barrier in Major League Baseball. They constantly cajoled and pressured Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis and other baseball officials to seriously consider the possibility of allowing black players to play in the Major Leagues. It was through their efforts and the courage of Branch Rickey that Jackie Robinson was given the chance to break the color barrier in 1947.

“Fay Young was a tremendously important journalistic figure who spanned the time of the beginning of the Negro leagues in 1920 until Jackie Robinson in 1947,” Brian Carroll, a journalism professor at Barry College in Georgia and an authority on black sportswriters, said at a 2009 conference of Negro League historians in Pittsburgh. “He was a tireless champion for the Negro Leagues and promoted major activities such as the league’s East-West All-Star Game. He even wrote some paternalistic columns telling black fans how they should behave at Negro League games and later at games that Jackie Robinson was playing at for the Brooklyn Dodgers.”

Larry Lester, chairman of the Negro Leagues Research Committee of the Society of American Baseball Research, considers Young an “extremely important journalistic figure along with Wendell Smith, Sam Lacy, and Joe Bostic.

His interests also ran to areas other than sports. Young helped establish Tennessee A & I State University’s poultry program. He was honored when the school named its new poultry building after him on Thanksgiving Day, 1953. Young also was involved with other agricultural projects in horticulture and stock breeding, 

Young died on October 27, 1957, of what was believed to be an intestinal obstruction. Among the pallbearers at his funeral were track stars, Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe.

In an article of tribute in “Ebony” magazine, journalist and colleague A. S. Young (no relation) called Fay Young the “patron saint of black college athletics.”

An obituary published in the “Defender” wrote of Young, “Oh, he would grumble, and one would believe he was the meanest fellow in the world, but deep down in his heart there was a soft spot, and it could be reached by anyone with a heart-touching story.”

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