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Local Gas House Terrors broke color barrier

July 8, 2013 - Mike Donahey
The late Jackie Robinson officially broke major league baseball’s color barrier in 1947. However, one writer said many blacks before Robinson’s time were playing major league baseball.

“At least 55 blacks played during the first two decades of professional baseball,” wrote Merl Kleinecht in his "1977 Baseball Research Journal". In order to avoid scrutiny, teams would indentify black players as "Cuban" or "American Indian."

Regardless, the film “42” did a workman-like job portraying the significant obstacles Robinson faced as an extremely talented black athlete, according to numerous film reviews.

Change takes place ever so slowly in major league baseball, and Robinson’s entrance was no different. He went on to a spectacular career with the Brooklyn Dodgers, and was later enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

A Marshalltown team helped break down the color barrier well before Robinson, as nearly 90 years ago, a talented team of blacks were playing amateur baseball here.

The Gas House Terrors, sponsored by Iowa Railway and Light Co., played throughout the region and usually won, according to the “Continuing History of Marshall County, 1997.” Team members in 1923 were Earl Maxwell, Arthur Green, Ezel Morrow, Enoch Morrow, Deb Darling, Scott Spencer, Mark Warren, Melvin Collier, N.A. Raglan, Leslie Maxwell and William Burton.

Incidentally, the Morrow name is a familiar one to area baseball and church historians. The Morrow Memorial United Methodist Church at 523 S. 5th St. in Marshalltown, was once one of four black churches which prospered when the county’s black population was significantly much more than it is now.

The church was named in honor of Ebra Morrow, a church charter member who had been killed in a work-related accident. The Morrow Church was dissolved several years ago by its few remaining members who were in their 80s. Only the Second Baptist Church at 516 Bromley St. remains active of the four.



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