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Honoring Emmett Ashford, MLB’s First African-American Umpire

Nineteen years after Jackie Robinson integrated the game of baseball and opened the floodgates for talented athletes of color to participate in America’s pastime, Emmett Ashford became the first African American umpire in major league baseball history. 

Baseball by BSmile on Twitter

Today In 1966: Emmett Ashford becomes the first African American umpire in major league baseball history during an Opening Day game in Washington D.C. #MLB

It was April 11th, 1966, a historical day and one in which he almost got arrested. The Posts William Gildea reported that an FBI agent grabbed Ashford as he tried to enter the umpires room, telling him there are no Negro umpires employed in baseball. He obviously didnt get the memo. 

Ashford played baseball in college and then took a leave of absence from his job as a postal worker in 1951 to pursue a career in umpiring, starting in the Southwestern International League.

After bouncing around the Pacific Coast League for 12 years and becoming  the minor league systems first Black umpire-in-chief, on April 11, 1966– after some prodding from progressive West Coast media — he made his debut at D.C. Stadium.   

While Jackie was known for his humility, serene demeanor and diplomatic approach, Ashford was unapologetically black and while working in the American League from 1966 to 1970, Ashford became a must see attraction at umpire where he was known for his swag before the word ever existed. 

Ralph Ellison Lions on Twitter

Black Legacy: On this day in 1966, Emmett Ashford became the first Black major league umpire.

Ashford isnt recognized solely as a color barrier breaker, as he was way ahead of his time as showman at a time when umpires were to be seen and not heard. It was hard not to recognize a black man executing his authority over white players in the game and even harder not to notice Ashford, who today would probably look like a rapper from the 90s as he rocked  jewels, including flashy cufflinks and wore polished shoes and freshly-pressed suits.

He was the epitome of Black fashion, pride and possibilities during the Civil Rights Era in America and a symbol of the inroads African-Americans were making culturally through sports.

CALLED UP: The Emmett Ashford Story

CALLED UP is a one-hour documentary being produced about the untold story of Emmett Ashford’s journey to becoming Major League Baseball’s first black umpire back in 1966. This year commemorates his 50th anniversary. Produced and Directed by Doug Harris

Ashford was athletic and enthusiastic about his job, often jetting around the infield to get into position to track foul balls and make call on the basepaths. Unsurprisingly, it was his flair and flash that eventually made him unhireable to MLB. His personality was too big and too black for the game. 

Though is career lasted just four years, Ashford is an irreplaceable pioneer in the history of baseball in America and considered a hero of the game. 

In 2016, Major League Baseball umpires wore patches with the initials EA in his honor. Ashford knew that the road he was paving was uncharted and sure to have some bumps.   

You know how it is with a pioneer, Ashford told a reporter later in the season. Its not all peaches and cream. A pioneers role is not lined with red velvet.

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