One of the enduring myths about the Farm Security Administration [FSA] is that its photographers only made gloomy pictures of poor people. Nothing could be further from the truth. Despite that fact that the FSA was a Depression-era federal agency that brought aid to the poor, its photographers -- under the leadership of Roy Stryker -- made plenty of photos of happy poor people, too. Sometimes they were playing baseball.
Russell Lee: Baseball game at recess, San Augustine grade school, San Augustine, Texas. 1939. (All photos are from the Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information collection, at the Library of Congress. Click on any image to see a much larger version.)
I thought that it would be great to celebrate major league baseball's Opening Day with some photos of grassroots baseball from 70 years ago, a time when the game was indisputably America's past-time. (Captions are the originals.)
Philip Bonn: Keysville, Virginia. Randolph Henry High School. Baseball during gym period. 1943.
Marjory Collins: Washington, D.C. Players in an amateur baseball game between the employees' recreation association and a team recruited from garage workers. 1942.
Dorothea Lange: Near mountain home, northern Arkansas, on U.S. 62. Farmers' baseball game in the country. From this area many have gone to California to work in agriculture. 1938.
Marion Post Wolcott: Atlanta, Georgia. Watching a baseball game. 1939.
Dorothea Lange: Fourth of July, near Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Rural filling stations become community centers and general loafing grounds. The men in the baseball suits are on a local team which will play a game nearby. They are called the Cedargrove Team. 1939.
Russell Lee: Migratory laborers like to play baseball. Here is one of them in a catchers uniform at the Agua Fria Migratory Labor Camp, Arizona. 1940.
Russell Lee: Spectators watch the baseball game on the fourth of July at Vale, Oregon. 1941.
Roger Smith: Negro Marines prepare for action. Breaking a tradition of 167 years, the U.S. Marine Corps started enlisting Negroes on June 1, 1942. The first class of 1,200 Negro volunteers began their training three months later as members of the 51st Composite Defense Battalion at Montford Point, a section of the 200 square mile Marine Base, Camp Lejeune, at New River, North Carolina. Evidence of the lack of racial friction may be seen in the sports program at the camp. On the baseball team Negro enlistees and white non-com officers are teammates. Camp Lejeune has its own baseball league, with the Montford Point team a strong contender for championship honors. 1943.
Russell Lee: Night baseball, Marshall, Texas. 1939. (Remember, you can click on the photos to see much larger versions.)