But baseball was too much of an American pastime to keep Americans out of it, even Americans segregated, marginalized and derided for the color of their skin. And so the Negro Leagues were born, lasting as an organization from roughly the first of the century through a few years after Jackie Robinson re-integrated the major leagues in 1947. Several biographies and histories of the teams and stars of the Negro League teams tell the stories of the game and its impact on segregated African-American urban life -- that strange parallel existence by which entire cities and cultural structures grew up in the areas to which the people had been confined. Black doctors, black businesses, black hotels, black restaurants and so on formed a complete society that rarely needed white support to survive. Black baseball was a part of this structure, and so was a black press that reported on it. Media professor Brian Carroll has written two books on the relationship between the African-American press and Negro League baseball, of which 2015's The Black Press and Black Baseball, 1915-1955: A Devil’s Bargain is the second. It focuses on several "slices" of the overall half-century story rather than laying it out in detail, using them as a way to understand the complicated relationship.
On the one hand, Negro League owners and executives saw the black press as a booster for what they were doing. The news outlets of a particular city had a responsibility to make that city's team look good. The initial chapter, which covers the way that individual newspapers enlisted on different sides of owner fights in 1915, shows how this quickly reduced them to owner mouthpieces (Indianapolis and Chicago papers allowed the different team owners a column to respond to each other in print).
Reporters for black newspapers agreed with this to some extent. Carroll highlights the history of the Negro League's "East-West Classic" and the way that papers and writers trumpeted its financial success and cultural demonstration of black equality. The way that the Classic's gate outdrew the competing Major League All-Star game some years features prominently in their writing. Their boosterism during Robinson's first season ignored a reality that the job was harder on him than anyone knew.
But increasingly, reporters and editors used their platform to argue and work for the integration of American society, including baseball. And as Carroll notes, the success of their efforts spelled the end of the Negro Leagues, as major league owners classified its teams as independent operators and simply raided the best talent. Aspiring young black ballplayers set their sights on major league uniforms and joined major league farm systems, leaving black fans with less and less reason to support separate teams that reminded them of their marginalized past. Carroll closes the book with a chapter on the role of the black press in pushing for desegregation in spring training facilities in the American South during the 1960s, the last remnant of official racial separation in baseball. The "devil's bargain" of the subtitle refers to the way that when the goal of official integration came to pass, it consigned to history the teams so important to 20th century black culture.
The Black Press is a little dry in tone, less so in describing the colorful feud of the first chapter than elsewhere. The Routledge Press sports history research format confines Carroll to relatively few pages and probably helps drive the vignette structure of the book. So although he brings to light an important part of American sports and press history, a fuller treatment will also be welcome whenever it arrives.
In fact, for some groups like students of Pythagoras, math and geometry were as much religion as anything else. When advances in calculation and working materials in the mid and late 1800's led to a resurgence of abstract math, a number of folks revived its connection to religion as well. Daniel J. Cohen in 2007's Equations from God: Pure Mathematics and Victorian Faith traces the rise of this trend as well as its eventual end as mathematicians worked to professionalize their discipline.
Cohen starts by showing how the largely unchanging equations and laws of math offered security to a lot of folks bewildered by the rapid pace of technological change during the 19th century. Equations related to each other and their concepts moved and changed completely independently of things that happened in the "real world." The relationship between the lengths of the sides of a right triangle was the same whether the triangle was drawn on paper or existed only in the mind of the person thinking about it. This regularity in abstraction appealed to intellectual folks who were also devoted people of faith, as it seemed to offer a parallel to their religious understandings.
Cohen focuses on a handful of professors at schools in the United States and England, and the way their interest in math began to dominate their religious thinking and philosophy as well. They're all Unitarians or in some cases Deists, as those branches of faith had stronger appeal for the highly educated men involved in this loose movement. Some are names less well-known today than in their time, although George Boole's work in logic during the 1850s led to a lot of the concepts underlying modern computing and what's called "Boolean logic" in search engines. It's how you use AND or NOT in a search window to limit the results. Both Boole and his contemporary Augustus De Morgan used their pattern of logical formulation to describe their religious ideas and to try to falsify those of some opponents.
The end of the wave came as mathematicians moved to set themselves on a more professional footing, in part to reduce the attention they were having to pay to people who came up with flawed "solutions" to unsolvable problems, like the exact value of π. But the only way they could distance it and support the idea that mathematics was its own discipline was to trim away its connection to others, including theology. Narrow minds in both fields pushed against the idea of bridges between them and helped contribute to a supposed gulf between faith and science or scientific ideas that many accept as real today.
Cohen doesn't have a tight focus on the non-mathematical aspects of his subjects lives, and although the biographical details humanize them he doesn't always draw clear connections between the facts he includes and their bearing on the math-theology connection which his book is supposed to explore. DeMorgan especially was prone to feuds with other scientists, such as Michael Faraday, and we don't learn exactly why the details of it bear on the central idea. To some extent Boole and certainly De Morgan aren't really religious as much as they are spiritual or metaphysical, but they do apply their work to some religious themes.
But math can hold the same appeal for the intellectual and religious today as it did in the 19th century, and so Equations offers a quick picture of a time when the idea of a religious scientist was not the oxymoron limited thinkers would hold it to be today.