Extremely rare original photo, taken by renowned civil-rights photographer Ernest C. Withers, capturing the sixteen members of a postseason barnstorming team made up of African-American players who had played in the Major Leagues in 1955. Certified as an original Type 1 photograph by PSA/DNA. Willie Mays was obviously the headliner on this club, but the team featured an incredible array of talent, including both a very young Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks, each of whom just finished playing in his second full Major League season. All of the players, who are identified in blue ink on the reverse, are pictured wearing their respective Major League or minor-league uniform. The players pictured here are Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Monte Irvin (wearing a Minneapolis Millers uniform; the Giants sent Irvin down to the minors in 1955 and he finished the year with Minnesota), Larry Doby, Don Newcombe, Joe Black, George Crowe, Brooks Lawrence, Charlie White (White played with Milwaukee early in the season and later in the minors that year for the Rochester Red Wings; he is pictured here wearing his Red Wings uniform), Connie Johnson, Junior Gilliam, Hank Thompson, Sam Jones, Gene Baker, and one other player identified as "Louden" (he is wearing a uniform that reads "New York" but it is not a New York Giants uniform, it is a New York Cubans uniform. Research indicates that his name is Louis Louden and he played for the Cubans from 1942 through 1950).
During the early to mid 1950s, while integration was slowly advancing in organized ball, Willie Mays, along with Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella, traditionally put together teams of African-American Major League players and barnstormed around the country during the off-season. Very little information is known about those tours, other than the towns they played in and an occasional score from a game found in a old newspaper account. Photos from any of those tours, such as this, are rarer still and practically nonexistent. This is the first such team photo we have ever seen from any of those barnstorming tours. Luckily, the year can be positively dated to 1955 by virtue of an accompanying copy of a 1955 scorecard, titled "Major League Negro All-Stars," that lists each of the sixteen players pictured here on the "Visitors" team (vs. the "Negro American League All-Stars").
This is an exceptional photo dating to the transitional period between full integration in Major League baseball and the demise of the Negro Leagues. The fact that it was taken by one of the most celebrated African-American photographers in the country at the time only adds to its significance. The photographer's credit, reading in part "Ernest C. Withers/Photographer/Pictures Tell The Story/Memphis, Tenn," appears on the reverse in purple ink. Withers was one of the most important photographers of the civil-rights movement who traveled frequently with Dr. Martin Luther King during the turbulent 1950s and 1960s. In addition to the many leading stories he covered during his career, including the Emmett Till murder trial and the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike, Withers also was partial to chronicling Negro League baseball and the Memphis blues music scene. Today, many of his original photographs can be seen in museums all around the world. The fact that Withers took this photo probably indicates that the team was making a stop in Memphis at the time. The photo (7 x 5 inches) displays a few minor creases and is in Very Good to Excellent condition overall. Reserve $500. Estimate $1,000+.