The Louisiana Jackie, Part 2

I apologize I’m getting to this so late in the day — very hectic Wednesday …

Anyway, to conclude the Sam Fowlkes story, in continued honoring of Jackie Robinson Day … Around 1950-ish, this Lake Charles native made it to the pitching mounds of the famed Kansas City Monarchs and the Negro American League. That in and of itself — to follow in the footsteps of such legendary hurlers as Satchel Paige and Hilton Smith — is quite an accomplishment for an ol’ Pelican State guy.

But in July 1952, Fowlkes made his biggest mark on baseball history. That’s when he was signed by the Lake Charles Lakers of the Class B Gulf Coast League of organized baseball. Granted, that’s a relatively low-level minor-league circuit that really only included teams from the deep South, but the Lakers’ brave inking of their native son was very bold. To quote the Chicago Defender, with the move, Fowlkes became “the first [black player] ever signed by a white team in Louisiana.”

Also granted, that’s a landmark for just one state, but it has to be considered in context — this is one of the states of the “deep South,” where racism allegedly was the strongest and most intractable. There’s also an historical context — earlier that summer, a bill had been submitted to the Louisiana State Legislature that, according to the Defender, “would have banned Negro players from competing with whites in all sports in the state.”

The bill, however, was defeated, albeit by a sliver — 13-12.

In the wake of that political development, there apparently wasn’t a big deal made in the region by Fowlkes’ presence on the Lake Charles squad. Again, per the July 19, 1952, Defender story:

“Folkes [sic] has not yet made an appearance with the Lake Charles team, but nothing is expected to happen when he does made [sic] his first mound appearance.

“Truman Stancey, sports editor of The American” — to clarify, it was Truman Stacey of the Lake Charles American Press — “said he had talked with most of the players on the Lake Charles team ‘and their comments was that if he can pitch, he’s the man.'”

The Lakers also eventually signed another African American, utility infielder Ernest Chretian, soon after bringing Fowlkes aboard.

By the time 1953 rolled around, both the “mainstream” media and the black press were publishing articles about how, to quote a Washington Post headline over an Associated Press, “Negro Players Now No Novelty In Southern Baseball Leagues.” That AP article surveyed various minor leagues in the South and found that “at least 11 professional leagues across Dixie plan to use Negroes in 1953, or at least give them tryouts.”

The African-American Pittsburgh Courier, meanwhile, blared, “Seeking Tan Talent: Diamond Trend on Upgrade in South.” 

There were, of course, a handful of exceptions, the most prominent being the Class AA Southern Association, which, amazingly, never did integrate at all before it died in 1961 — a death that can largely be attributed to such staunch segregation.

That proved that, while the trailblazing efforts of Fowlkes, Chretian and others were certainly vital, they also didn’t exactly change America in one moment. In fact, things didn’t go well for the two Lake Charles men after that; while the aforementioned Pittsburgh Courier article states that the Lakers “used Pitcher Sam Fowlkes last year and probably will have him back this season,” in June 1953, the Lakers released both Fowlkes and Chretian. The reason is a little unclear.

It’s an upsetting coda to this story, but again, the Big Picture must be considered — regardless of how long the Lake Charles pair stuck with the Lakers, what they achieved was still very significant for the state of Louisiana, the South and America as a whole, and both players, especially Fowlkes, deserve to be recognized for what they accomplished.

5 thoughts on “The Louisiana Jackie, Part 2

  1. Hi, thanks for this article. Do you have any inf on Samuel Fowlkes’ brother Erwin? He played in the Negro Leagues as well. Also, any info on Sam (or Eriwn) after the 1950’s? It looks like by one newspeper account Samuel ran a bar in Lake Charles and was arested for killing a man in 1966.


    • Hi David, I have egg on my face — it’s taken me more than two years to respond! I’m so sorry! I have trouble keeping up with comments and responses. All of my files on this subject are temporarily in storage, so I’m not sure I can answer your questions. There probably is information about their post-1950s lives, but I haven’t had a chance to track it down. If you come across anything, let me know! Thanks!


    • Hi David! Uncle Ervin relocated to Saint Louis, Missouri and raised a son. “Uncle Sam” lived out the rest of his days in Lake Charles where he married and raised a son, Ron Fowlkes. The Fowlkes family still owns a sizable swath of land on Lake Street. The trouble he got himself in was short lived and he lived out the remainder of his days on his family’s land. One of his passions became coaching women’s baseball teams in Iowa; a small town near Lake Charles. Samuel Fowlkes died in the summer of 1986. He was my grandmother’s (Almeta Fowlkes) baby brother and certainly one of my favorite uncles.


  2. Thanks so much for writing this article. I was completely blown away that you included the historical context as well. You see, Ervin and Samuel are both my uncles, (my deceased grandmother’s brothers.) Uncle Ervin lived out the rest of his days in Kansas City, Missouri and I only remember seeing him a time or two at family reunions in Lake Charles. However, I was very close to Uncle Sam. In his later years, he would drag my brother and I to watch his girls play softball. Yes, he coached a young women’s softball team in Iowa, a small town not far from Lake Charles. He died one summer in the mid eighties after I had gone back to Detroit. I will miss him a great deal. Yes, he was fiery and didn’t take crap off of any one, but he was also kind, gentle, and loved his family, especially my brother and I, because we were his big sister’s kids from Detroit. In conclusion, I’m a 47 year old teacher living in Atlanta now and I have been tracing my grandmother’s family for half my life now. Thanks sooooo much for confirming my great, great grandfather’s (Samuel H. Fowlkes) story; even the slavery part. I nearly jumped out of my skin when I read that part. Sir, you ROCK!!!


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