I was in Pittsburgh last week and whenever I visit there, I always stop in Homestead to look around Cumberland Posey’s (and Andrew Carnegie’s) old stomping grounds.
And I also visit the Hill District to look around that place, once a major Black Fives Era basketball hotbed. (It was great to see a brand new branch of the Carnegie Library right across the street from Hamm’s, the barber shop up there where everyone including me used to go and still goes.)
The Monticello Athletic Association, the Delaney Rifles, the Scholastic Athletic Association, and the Loendi Big Five were the best known all-black basketball teams of their time, during the 1910s and 1920s.
Homestead and the Hill look different now, due to urban renewal projects. But since I know how these enclaves used to be, I can often picture what it must have been like, and I try to find spots that once were but are no more.
Historic Race Relations Via Basketball
African Americans in Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania historically have always had close ties with whites, many times through sports.
Scholastics owner and trainer Hunter Johnson was once the athletic trainer for the football and track teams at Carnegie Tech (predecessor to Carnegie Mellon).
Cumberland Posey played varsity basketball at Duquesne University and was his team’s leading scorer, all under an assumed name. He’s now in the Duquesne Sports Hall of Fame (with his real name).
Posey masterminded the highly popular and wildly successful ongoing series of intra-racial basketball games between his all-black Loendi Big Five team and local all-white powerhouse squads like the Coffey Club and the Second Story Morrys.
Loendi star William “Pimp” Young later became Secretary of Labor and Industry for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
That business model was later employed by Robert Douglas and his New York Rens (aka Harlem Rens) with teams like the Osh Kosh All Stars, New York Original Celtics, Cleveland Rosenblums, and Philadelphia SPHAS.
And as I’ve written previously, Andrew Carnegie himself shared close bonds with national as well as local black leaders.
Carnegie gave generously to Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute and Hampton Institute.
He also gave Cumberland Posey’s father — who owned shipping and mining businesses — lucrative contracts to haul coal, coke, ore, and slag to and from Pittsburgh for Carnegie Steel.
Carnegie, who said, “My heart is in the work,” a phrase that became the motto for Carnegie Mellon University, also said that he never gave to people who needed — only to people who wanted.
Many of his views are documented in a lecture he gave in 1907, “The Negro In America,” about which I wrote not long ago.