The above photo features the 1904 Ohio-Wesleyan University Integrated Baseball Team Imperial Cabinet photo. What makes this so striking and important are two people in the photo; a talented black ballplayer named Charles Thomas and a very young team manager (dressed in a suit on the top right) Branch Rickey.
I'll let the auction speak for itself.
As with many integrated teams of the era, the team endured bigotry and undue hardships due to the social climate of the period. The story of African American player Charles Thomas and his young manager Branch Rickey is one of incredible significance within the history of baseball. In one well-known incident, Branch Rickey's Ohio-Wesleyan team played in Kentucky to the overt protest of the Kentucky players. When Rickey's team began to take the field with Thomas headed for first base, the Kentucky squad uttered numerous unspeakable racial slurs. Rickey was so incensed that he charged the opposing bench, threatening to take his entire team and leave if Kentucky refused to play with Thomas on the field. Eventually, the Kentucky team restrained itself and played the game. While this incident was well remembered by Rickey, another such occurrence would shape his ideals and, eventually, inspire change of a previously unknown magnitude within the game itself.Auction Link: Hunt:
During a trip to South Bend to play Notre Dame, Branch Rickey was told by the clerk at the Oliver Hotel that the team was welcome except for Charlie Thomas. Rickey would not hear of it and insisted that Thomas be allowed to stay in Rickey's room as an unregistered guest. After threatening to take the entire team elsewhere, Rickey convinced the manager and sent for a cot. Recalling the events that immediately followed, Rickey described how "Tommy stood in the corner, tense and brooding and in silence. I asked him to sit in a chair and relax. Instead, he sat on the end of the cot, his huge shoulders hunched and his large hands clasped between his knees. I tried to talk to the captain, but I couldn't take my gaze from Tommy. Tears welled, ...spilled down his black face and splashed to the floor. Then his shoulders heaved convulsively and he rubbed one great hand over the other with all the power of his body, muttering, 'Black skin....black skin, if I could only make 'em white'. He kept rubbing and rubbing as though he would remove the blackness by sheer friction...."
Rickey and Thomas remained good friends for life. In fact, some 15 years later, his friendship with Charles Thomas, who by then had become a successful dentist, was such that when Thomas was denied a grandstand seat in Sportsman's Park in St. Louis, where Rickey was currently President of the club, Rickey boycotted his own team. Refusing to attend the game, Rickey spent the afternoon with his longtime friend Charlie Thomas.
In Referring to the episode in South Bend, Rickey later explained, "...whatever mark that incident left on the black boy...it was no more indelible than the impressions made on me..." Rickey would hold on to that conviction, eventually bringing Jackie Robinson to the Major Leagues in 1947. The amazing cabinet photograph offered here captures an essential moment in both the story of baseball and American social history. Additionally, the image was prominently featured within Ken Burns' acclaimed documentary "Baseball". This player Charles Thomas, the team, the events at Notre Dame, and Rickey's friendship and devotion to Mr. Thomas led, some 43 years later, to the integration of Major League Baseball and the legacy of Jackie Robinson, which continues to this day
UPDATE: The final price at auction was $16,000.00 before the bidder premium of 15%.