Cuban Giants of 1887

The Cuban Giants were an aggregation born in 1885 from the merger of four earlier black professional clubs—the Keystones, the Orions, the Manhattans, and the Argyles of Babylon, Long Island. Not a one of the players was Cuban but, given America’s friendliness toward, even obsession with, its island neighbour (and historic lust for its annexation), African American ballplayers had been led to believe they would have an easier time playing before white audiences if they pretended to be “Cubans” or “Spaniards” . . . exotics of color rather than colored Americans. James Weldon Johnson, who was raised in Jacksonville, Florida, and learned to speak Spanish from a Cuban boyhood friend, observed that while traveling by rail in the 1890s, he was treated much better by railroad employees and fellow passengers after they heard him speak Spanish and surmised that he was not African American but Cuban. “In such situations,” he concluded, “any kind of Negro will do; provided he is not one who is an American citizen.” 

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