Cumberland “Cum” Posey made his mark in sports history as the architect and owner of the Homestead Grays, one of the most renown and successful franchises in Negro League baseball. One of the seventeen individuals from the Negro League baseball era inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame (Cooperstown, New York) in 2006, Posey helped to provide the opportunity for African-American and dark-skinned Latino baseball players to exhibit their God-given talent during the time racial discrimination kept them out of the Major Leagues.
However, Cum Posey received another distinction last week by being inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. The other inductees with Posey were; former National Basketball Association (NBA) players Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson, Yao Ming, and Zelmo Beaty; former Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) star Sheryl Swopes, Michigan State Basketball Coach Tom Izzo, Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, former NBA referee Darell Garretson, and former NBA and college coach John McLendon. Long before the existence of the NBA or National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), Posey received acclaim as one of the best basketball guards in the country when he graduated from high school in 1908.
A super quick point guard (5’ 4” – 5’9”, depending on the source), he went on to become the first African-American student athlete at Penn State (1909 – 1911). After leaving school, Posey and his brother organized a basketball team in his hometown of Homestead across the Monongahela River from Pittsburgh; The Monticello Rifles. Not only the team’s star player, Cum also operated the business and promotional functions for it. The team changed its name to the Loendi Big Five in 1913 and became for years one of the best in what was the black professional basketball circuit.
Posey returned to college in 1916 and under the name Charles Cumbert became the first African-American student athlete at Duquesne. Leading the team in scoring from 1916 – 1919), he wanted to get an additional year of eligibility so he successfully used an assumed name.
After playing baseball in the summer with the Homestead Grays since 1911, Posey bought the team in 1920 and by 1925 baseball became his main focus until he died of lung cancer in 1947.
Cum Posey is the first to be recognized at the Hall of Fame in both Cooperstown and Springfield.
Here is an excerpt from my book, “Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era” (Black Rose Writing – 2015), with more information about Cum Posey:
“Homestead was the birthplace of Cumberland Willis Posey, Jr.
on June 20, 1890. However, Posey’s destiny would not be tied to
steel. His parents were educated. His mother a teacher and his
father was an entrepreneur. An engineer that built boats and
operated a coal and ore business, Cum Sr. had the distinction of
being possibly the richest African American in the area. In college
Cum Jr. studied chemistry leaning towards becoming a pharmacist.
But sports had such a hold of his heart he could not ignore it.
A star athlete at Homestead High School, Posey played football,
basketball, and baseball as a teenager. Named Pittsburgh area’s top
high school basketball player in 1909, Posey (5’9”, 140 pounds) also
received national attention as one of the best guards in the country.
He played college basketball at Penn State and Duquesne.
However, baseball was a more popular sport in Posey’s
hometown of Homestead. The black steel workers passionately
played it every weekend from spring through fall. There were many
sandlot baseball teams sponsored by Pittsburgh area steel mills and
companies in the steel industry. These teams would be opponents
for a Homestead black team organized in 1900 called the Blue
Ribbons. The Blue Ribbons also played against local white semiprofessional
teams. By the time Posey began playing for the team
in 1911, its name had been changed to the Murdock Grays. Shortly
afterwards the team became the Homestead Grays.
Posey used the speed he exhibited on the basketball court to
develop into a decent centerfielder in baseball. He still played local
semi‐professional basketball during the winter in his early years
with the Grays. It was during his involvement with basketball that
the skills Posey used when he owned and operated the Grays were
first exhibited. Along with his brother Seward, he organized and
operated a basketball team that was successful for many years in
the black semi‐professional circuit. He continued to operate the
team for 14 years after he began playing with the Grays.
Posey’ status with Grays steadily increased as he was the team
captain in 1916, the field manager in 1917, and in 1918 was also
handling many of the team’ business operations. Finally, Posey
and a local businessman (Charles Walker) bought the Grays in
To learn more about Cum Posey, read “Last Train to Cooperstown”. To order, go to http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown.
Walter “Coach” Owens played for the Detroit Stars in 1953 -1955 during Negro League baseball’s declining years. Although he never wore a Major League uniform, he used the lessons he learned through his experiences to have a positive influence on young players.
Born on August 19, 1933 in Cleveland, Ohio; Owens grew up in Detroit where baseball was segregated at the amateur and semi-professional levels. He played on three high school city baseball champions and received a basketball/track scholarship to Western Michigan University.
During the summer months while in college, he played for the Detroit Stars of the Negro American League (NAL). A pitcher and an outfielder, Owens played under an alias in order to keep his college amateur eligibility. Playing against the House of David one of those summers, he singled and struck out facing “Satchel” Paige. Although Owens was a good ballplayer, but former Negro League star and Detroit resident Turkey Stearnes, advised him to stay in school.
After graduating from college, Owens received an offer to play for the Indianapolis Clowns. He turned it down, began teaching school, and eventually became the baseball coach at Detroit’s Northwestern High School. Owens was a father figure for many of his players. Two of them, Willie Horton and Alex Johnson, went on to have successful Major League careers in the 1960s and 1970s.
In 1976, Owens was named head baseball coach at Northern Illinois University (Mid-American Conference) and became one of a very few African Americans to run the baseball program at a majority white NCAA university at that time. NIU won 133 games in Owens’ seven years (1976 – 1982) as coach.