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Iconic African-American baseball player, Leroy “Satchel” Paige (1906-1982), was in an institution for six years from the age of twelve.

Satchel Page was born Leroy Robert Page, the sixth of twelve children of impoverished Black parents in Mobile, Alabama. John Page worked as a labourer, often doing more than one job. Lula Page was the mainstay of the family, working away from home as a “part-time domestic” and at home as a “full-time washerwoman”.

Leroy remembered how his mother ran the show like a military operation, with her primary attention on feeding the family. Food was always an issue and in short supply. To mother Lula’s credit, diligence, and ability to stretch resources, the Page children always received something to eat (4).

Fishing, rock throwing and baseball were Leroy’s favourite childhood occupations. He used the first two to supplement the family dinner table and the third to avoid school.

Out of school more often than he was in, Leroy had acquired a reputation as a “troublemaker” by the time he was twelve. He was forever in rock fights against white boys, but it was petty theft that landed him in reform school.

At the Mount Meigs Colored Institute, the boys were expected to learn “vocational skills in the hope of becoming productive workers”. Although Leroy hated Mount Meigs, he “toed the line”. The boys were expected to do chores daily, engage in classroom education along with “working with the hands…hoeing, weeding, planting, harvesting, tending to the livestock, clearing away debris, chopping wood for the fireplaces…”(27).

Leroy also had the opportunity to play baseball and later said that he “traded five years of freedom to learn how to pitch” (36).

After his release from Mount Meigs, and with the help of his older brother, Wilson, Satchel began to play for a local team, the Mobile Tigers. At age 19 he was approached to take up the game professionally and played for the Chattanooga Black Lookouts in the Negro Southern League before being offered gigs with other teams.

At the age of 42, Paige began playing in Major League Baseball for Cleveland. He had the distinction of being the:

the first African American pitcher to start a game and the oldest rookie in the history of Majors” (xiv). He was under considerable pressure as “the whole of Negro Leagues Baseball, past, present, and future, counted on him to come through, as did an entire race of people fighting against the stigma of inferiority” (xiv).

According to biographer Donald Spivey, Paige helped to change the culture of racism in America through his baseball prowess.

Paige knew exactly what he was doing as he bridged the racial divide with athletic performance packaged in slapstick humor. He entertained as he played to win…he performed for the crowds, and the crowds loved him for it…Paige was a master at pushing the envelope, of fooling around minstrel-like just enough to satisfy both blacks and whites in the same audience. They could laugh along with his antics rather than laughing at him as a racial caricature, while, at the same time, he demonstrated his dominance over blacks and whites from the pitcher’s mound (xviii).

Only the legendary African American boxer, Joe Louis, was a match for Satchel Paige in being loved by black and white audiences, regularly sought out by the media, and who “brought fans through the turnstiles in the thousands day in and day out…” (xxi).

In 1996, the television film Soul of the Game told the story of African-American league baseball. Delroy Lindo played Satchell Paige.


Spivey, Donald. “If you were only white”: the life of Leroy “Satchel” Paige. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2012.

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