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FutureStarrCumberland Posey - A Little-Known Figure in Pittsburgh Sports
Cumberland Posey died in 1925, leaving behind a legacy as one of Pittsburgh's wealthiest African Americans - an incredible accomplishment for someone born to slave parents from Ohio.
Posey's entrepreneurial success was evident across a variety of industries. His accomplishments were also evident through his numerous civic contributions - he founded and served as president of Loendi Social Club, an organization dedicated to improving life in the Hill District.
Cumberland Posey may be best known for founding and owning the Pittsburgh Grays baseball team, but his contribution to basketball is equally noteworthy. Though his name may not be commonly associated with this sport, he played an essential role in its development and helped open doors for African American athletes to pursue professional sports.
He began his basketball career by founding Monticello Athletic Association in Pittsburgh, which quickly became a hub for black hoops activity. In 1911, he joined his brother See and some friends to form a club basketball team which went on to defeat Howard University's famed squad and go on to win four consecutive Colored Basketball World Championships.
After graduating high school, he went on to Penn State and became its first black student athlete. He earned a place on both teams: freshmen basketball team (1909-10) and varsity squad (1910-11).
At Duquesne University, he registered under the pseudonym "Charles Cumbert." He never actually attended classes and, according to historian Rob Ruck, it appears he may have just been playing around with it to conceal his race from Pittsburgh's crowds.
While in college, he founded and managed the Homestead Grays baseball team - which would go on to be one of the most successful all-black teams in the Negro League. Not only was he an accomplished manager and player, but his business acumen proved crucial for their success.
His marketing skills contributed to the growth of the team, drawing in more fans and paying larger salaries to players. Additionally, he served as both an executive and league officer.
At the conclusion of his career, he had won 16 basketball and baseball championships - more than any other individual. His teams dominated the Negro League, cementing him as a major influence on American sport.
He is widely considered the greatest African American athlete of all time and one of only two people to be inducted into both the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Additionally, he won five Colored Basketball World Championships during his illustrious baseball career that spanned thirty-five years.
Posey was a towering figure in Pittsburgh sports during the early part of the 20th century. Not only was he an outstanding athlete, but also one of Pittsburgh's first Black entrepreneurs. A pioneer in both basketball and baseball, Posey continues to be remembered for his contributions to athletic culture in Pittsburgh.
He played college baseball for Penn State, the University of Pittsburgh, and later Duquesne University - which was the first university to admit an African-American student. Furthermore, he was a professional baseball player and owner of the Homestead Grays, one of the most successful teams in Negro League history.
Cumberland Posey was born in June 1890 in Homestead, Pennsylvania (now a suburb of Pittsburgh). His parents were Cumberland Willis and Angelina (Anna) Posey.
In the 1910s, Posey frequently traveled around the country playing for various sports teams. He quickly earned himself a reputation as "The Wizard" on and off the court.
Prior to his career in baseball, Posey spent time working as both a riverboat operator and boat builder. His expertise in shipbuilding, engine maintenance, steamboat operations and ship repair helped him become wealthy with an enviable reputation on the waterways of America.
After graduating college, Posey joined the Monticello Athletic Association in Pittsburgh as their star player and manager. Together with other clubs they formed the Loendi Big Five which went on to win four consecutive Colored Basketball World's Championships.
In 1922, Dizzy Dismukes' Keystones spurred Posey and his partner William Walker to turn their semipro squad into a full-time professional squad. They quickly signed players like Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson and Judy Johnson before joining the Negro National League.
Posey was an accomplished athlete, but his greatest legacy lay in his work as a sports entrepreneur. He created the Negro League that would eclipse black baseball's legendary past and breathe new life into a sport struggling during the Great Depression.
Cumberland Posey, a former slave from Port Tobacco, Maryland born in 1858, was adopted by his father who moved the family to Virginia when he was seven. While working on a riverboat as part of his training for becoming an engineer, Posey earned his chief engineer license.
Throughout his career, he owned and operated numerous enterprises, such as several steamboat companies that built and operated vessels for the coal industry. Furthermore, he founded and owned The Courier newspaper - a publication that provided news to readers around the world.
Posey began studying engineering as a young man to prepare him for employment as an assistant or chief engineer on a steamboat. His employer was so impressed with him that they convinced him to become full chief engineer.
His success on the water spurred him to construct boats and transport coal across the Monongahela River. He oversaw the building of forty-one vessels, employing thousands of men throughout his lifetime.
He achieved success as an entrepreneur and was a prominent member of Pittsburgh's African American community. He was involved with numerous organizations and served as trustee for several local institutions.
Posey was an active member of the Freemasons, True Reformers, Knights of Pyththias and Odd Fellows organizations, advocating for African American integration. Additionally, he contributed regular sports columns to The Courier newspaper.
Posey had a prosperous career on the river, so he and his family relocated to Homestead, Allegheny County in 1892. There he married Angelina Stevens - an Ohio teacher - and soon had two children.
Anna, a former student at the University of Virginia, taught school in Homestead before her husband's success on the river allowed her to retire. She was an incredibly strong, intelligent, and well-spoken woman.
She and Posey's children received education from Homestead schools. Her intelligence, as well as her standing within the community, proved instrumental to her husband's success.
Posey began his college career at Penn State in 1909, where he played both basketball and baseball. Following that, he spent three seasons at Duquesne University where he led them to victory in their lone national championship in 1916-18.
Cumberland Posey, a little-known figure in Pittsburgh history, was one of the most successful African American industrialists of his era. His remarkable story serves as a compelling testament to how an individual can overcome racial discrimination and achieve success despite it.
He began his career as an engineer in the steamboat business, which was still mostly dominated by white men. Over time he rose from being a stoker to become Chief Engineer and earned himself the title of "Captain" or "Cumposey."
His skills on the water made him a sought-after partner in businesses such as Delta Coal and Diamond Coke. Additionally, he built and operated an impressive fleet of steamboats out of Homestead, Pennsylvania - many based there.
Posey was also heavily involved in local politics and community organizations. He belonged to the Freemasons, True Reformers, Knights of Pyththias, Odd Fellows and Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA).
Posey was a man of wealth and influence who often served on city councils and commissions, eventually serving as mayor of Homestead in 1917. Additionally, he invested heavily in the Homestead Grays baseball team which would become an influential force in Negro baseball history.
The Grays played in various leagues before joining the American Negro League, a professional baseball league composed solely of Black teams. During the Depression years, however, this league experienced financial issues.
Posey's leadership and management abilities were essential in the club's success. Additionally, he ensured his players were treated with respect and dignity, making them feel like part of the family.
Many owners of professional sports have entered the sport as businessmen, but Posey took a different approach. He loved his team with an intense affection and treated them like his own personal property.
He took his team on road trips and they played semi-pro teams around town. His squad became increasingly popular due to the advent of streetcars.