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Groundbreakers

click to enlarge MATTHEW SCHNIPER

It was subdued prejudice, but still prejudice," says Larry Moss, recalling the segregation era in the West.

Moss (pictured right) and Sylvester "Smitty" Smith grew up together in Colorado Springs during tense times. After high school, the two friends played on the Brown Bombers, a semi-pro, all-black city-league baseball team. Named after boxing champ Joe Louis, the Bombers competed in an otherwise white league.

"We could only swim on Wednesdays at the Monument Valley city pool, then they'd clean it on Thursdays," recalls Smith. "Things weren't as bad as down in the South, but we did have some KKK out here. We sat in the back of the theaters, and we couldn't go to the YMCA."

"They once called it "Little Mississippi' here," adds Moss. "We couldn't stay in motels on the road or go to the soda fountains."

Though the Bombers didn't receive proper treatment around town, they commanded respect on the ballfield.

"All the other teams would "load up' to try and beat us," says Moss. The centerfielder vividly remembers heated games against rival Fort Carson.

"The biggest thrill for me was playing against all those professional players that had been drafted for the war," says Smith, a left fielder.

But no amount of stacking the benches helped opponents in 1949 and 1950, when the Bombers won consecutive city championships at Memorial Park. Around that time, Jackie Robinson, who broke the major leagues' color barrier, won the National League Most Valuable Player Award. An era was swinging to a close.

The Brown Bombers disbanded in '51, as the city began breaking up the leagues, the Korean War grabbed a few players, and players began "settling down."

-- story and photo by Matthew Schniper

  • Groundbreakers

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