Lately there have been a few questions about the melee at the 1919 Interrace game in Omaha that’s featured both in my chapbook (On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown) and in my novel-in-progress (Red Summer). The scene I wrote is almost entirely fictionalized, as all I had to go on were a few mentions of a fight between black and white players in the game, and a general description of an annual match that took place around Independence Day at a ballfield in Deer Park. (After more research I figured the game must have been played in Rourke Park, a small baseball stadium in South Omaha that’s near Deer Park, the area around where Rosenblatt Stadium stood until a few years ago.) At the time I didn’t plan on writing anything about the game, just chalking it up to personal curiosity, so I didn’t think much more about it until I had to.
Recently, however, I went back through my old research and was able to track down some more solid source information and came across this article from the June 30, 1919 edition of the Daily Bee. (I apologize for the low quality of the image. A transcription is below.)
There are a few similarities between my fictional melee and the real one, including that the melee was struck off by a dirty play and a collision between players. The differences are pretty striking too. My melee is much smaller, as I thought having spectators flooding onto the field to join the fight would be over the top. Yet, at the real event hundreds of people from both races apparently did just that. Truth is stranger than fiction and all that, I guess. My favorite part is that the Chief of Police just happened to be in the crowd with some deputies to step in and arrest the offending “colored firstbaseman” before things got out of hand. Deus ex machina if there ever was one, right?
Pretty fascinating stuff. I’ve been excited to share this.
POLICE ARE CALLED TO QUELL NEAR RIOT AT ROURKE BALL PARK
Police quelled what tended to be a riot yesterday afternoon at Rourke Park when several hundred negroes swarmed onto the field from one side of the grandstand and several hundred whites from the other side after the firstbaseman for the Union Giants, a colored team, struck Jimmie Collins, outfielder for the Armours.
Chief of Police Eberstein, Russell Eberstein, Sergeant Russell and a squad of officers, most of whom were attending the game as spectators, dispersed the crowd and arrest Jack Marshall, the colored firstbaseman.
The trouble started when Collins and Marshall collided at first base. Marshall, claiming that Collins had spiked him, struck Collins in the face while he had the ball in his hand.