John Milton Dabney

15 Jun

Born in November of 1867 in Richmond, Virginia, the son of former slaves, John Milton Dabney spent his childhood working for his father who became a successful restaurant owner and caterer in Richmond after the Civil War.

In 1885, Dabney went to work at the Argyle Hotel in Babylon, Long Island.  He joined the hotel’s baseball team (ostensibly composed of the hotel’s service workers, but some of the best amateur players on the East Coast were recruited for the team by head waiter Frank P. Thompson, as Dabney likely was), intended to provide entertainment for the summer tourists.

The Argyle Hotel Athletics fared well against the strongest amateur teams in the area and caught the eye of a white promoter, John F Lang.   Under Lang’s management, the team began touring that summer as the first professional African-American baseball team, the Cuban Giants.  The following year, Lang sold the team to Walter Cook.

John Milton Dabney

Initially a left fielder, Dabney also pitched and played first base for the Cuban Giants in 1885-86 and for the Cuban X-Giants in the 1890s.

Dabney went to work for the United States Postal Service and played baseball in Richmond for decades–he also played football for the Richmond Athletic Club and worked as a boxing referee.  According to the Baltimore Afro-American, “No amateur team in Richmond was complete unless Milton Dabney played first base.”

In 1897, Dabney  captained the Eclipse, a team based in Richmond, The Richmond Planet said:

“Dabney, who will play first base is perhaps one of the most celebrated colored players in the United States  He has played on clubs all over the country, notably with the Cuban Giants  He knows the game from A to Z and can be depended on at all times”

While Milton Dabney was a pioneer of black baseball, his older brother Wendell Phillips Dabney was a pioneer in another field.  An author, composer, and publisher of The Enterprise, and later The Union,  Cincinnati-based black newspapers, The Chicago Defender called him “The dean of Negro journalists.” he was one of the most prominent African-American newspaper publishers and political activists of the first half of the 20th century.

Wendell Phillips Dabney

Wendell Phillips Dabney

Dabney eventually went to live in Newark, New Jersey, where his son owned a funeral home, he died in a nursing home there in November of 1967, four days short of his 100th birthday.  Until his death, he was oldest surviving retired postal carrier in the country, and the last surviving member of black baseball’s first professional team.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s