“A great and irremediable injury has been inflicted upon the chivalry composing the Lexington (Ky.) base-ball club. After a series of brilliant successes with other chivalrous organizations, they accepted a challenge extended by the club at Nicholasville, which they found when arriving at the ground to be composed of darkies. They left in disgust, claiming that the color-line must be drawn somewhere, if only around three bases.” The Chicago Tribune, August 4, 1877, p4
“By yesterday’s game the Delaware Field Club is the first exclusive amateur organization to disregard the color line on the field of out door sports.” Wilmington [DE] Daily Commercial, May 19, 1887, p3
- NOTE: While the 1877 pro-color line citation above is the earliest use of the term I could find, this May 1887 article (shown in full below) is the earliest I could find which uses the term to describe a breaking of the line. It wasn’t long after that there were citations referring to opposing the breaking of the line, including the September 1887 New York Times article cited in the 2009 Dictionary and this one, from July 1887:
— “The Color Line Drawn in Base Ball” (Headline). “A Buffalo dispatch says: ‘The International League directors held a secret meeting at the Genesee House Thursday and question of colored players was freely discussed. Several representatives declared that many of the best players in the League were anxious to leave on account of the colored element, and the board finally directed Secretary White to approve of no more contracts with colored men.’” The Evening Leader [Wilkes-Barre, PA], July 15, 1887, p4.
Whether or not these actions were in reaction to the event described in May is unclear. (Ken Liss)
Previous earliest use (Dickson Baseball Dictionary, 3rd edition, 2009):
1ST USE. 1887. “The Philadelphia Times will say to-morrow that for the first time in the history of baseball the color line has been drawn, and that the ‘world’s champions,’ the St. Louis Browns, are the men who have established the precedent that white players must not play with colored men” (The New York Times, Sept. 12).