Sports Heroes Who Served: WWII Marine Was First Black MLB Pitcher

1 year ago

Sports Heroes Who Served is a series that highlights the accomplishments of athletes who served in the U.S. military.

Dan Bankhead was the first African American pitcher in Major League Baseball. Before that, he played in Negro League baseball for the Birmingham Black Barons and the Memphis Red Sox from 1940 to 1947.

Then when MLB began to desegregate, he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1947 to 1951.

During World War II, Bankhead served in the Marine Corps Reserves from April 1942 to June 1946, when he was honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant.

While in the Marines, he played for the Montford Point baseball team at Montford Point, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and toured the United States to help raise morale and support for the war effort.

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802 in June 1941, Black people were, for the first time, permitted to join the Marine Corps.

Bankhead received his recruit training in a segregated unit.

Between 1942 and 1949, the camp at Montford Point was a recruit depot for Black recruits, training 20,000 African Americans.

When Bankhead joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, the Marine Corps was still segregated.

In 1948, by Executive Order 9981, President Harry S. Truman ordered the military to integrate.

In 1974, Montford Point was renamed Camp Gilbert H. Johnson.

Camp Johnson became the home of the Marine Corps Combat Service Support Schools. In 2007, a documentary entitled The Montford Point Marine Project was released, honoring the Black Marines who trained at Montford Point.

Regarding Bankhead's MLB pitching career with the Dodgers, he amassed a win-loss record of 20-9; earned run average of 4.83 and 228 strikeouts.

Bankhead, born May 3, 1920, in Empire, Alabama, died of cancer at a Veterans Administration hospital in Houston, Texas on May 2, 1976, a day before his 56th birthday.

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