A singular honor for a Pittsburgh legend

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Cum Posey Jr.

Here’s another guest post, and it’s another great one! This was written by Facebook pal Eric Newland, who volunteered to write about the news concerning Cum Posey’s new honor. Many thanks to Eric for producing such a good article, and as usual, if anyone out there wants to write a guest blog post, just let me know at rwhirty218@yahoo.com.

By Eric Newland

On April 5, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, located in Springfield, Mass., announced 10 new inductees to be enshrined Sept. 9.

Headlining this year’s class are Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson, Yao Ming, Zelmo Beaty and Cumberland “Cum” Posey, who was selected by the new Early African-American Pioneers of the Game committee, which was formed in 2011 and which has the discretion to select inductees with a direct vote.

Claude Johnson, founder of the Black Five Foundation located in Pittsburgh, along with noted professor and historian Rob Ruck, have led the effort as advocates for basketball pioneers, whether black or white, on the hardwoods during the racially segregated “Black Five era” through 1950.

The term “Black Fives” includes those stellar, all-black basketball squads that thrived during the game’s era of de facto segregation. Johnson and Ruck led a 14-year campaign to build and recognize the unique body of work around Homestead’s own Cumberland Posey.

Posey was one of the original basketball pioneers as a player, coach, manager and owner, having won five National Basketball Championships. Ruck said, “Posey’s teams beat all comers, white and black. They did so with athletic skill, intelligence and dignity.”

Ruck said Posey’s basketball teams, as well as his Homestead Grays Negro Baseball League’s teams, “won more championships in the different sports than the Steelers and Pirates combined.”

Cumberland Willis “Cum” Posey Jr. was born June 20, 1890, in Homestead, Pa., into an elite, entrepreneurial family. Cumberland Posey Sr., born to slave parents in Virginia, was the first African-American licensed engineer of the United States, a riverboat builder and owner of Diamond Coke and Coal, the largest African-American business in Western Pennsylvania. The elder Posey was also president of the Pittsburgh Courier Publishing company, the nation’s largest circulated African-American newspaper.

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Cum Posey, bottom  right

Posey Jr’s bloodlines spurred the 5-foot-8, 145 pounder to join the worlds of baseball, football, basketball and golf, making him a barrier breaker preceding the likes of Jim Thorpe, Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinson. Wendell Smith, the prolific sportswriter for the Pittsburgh Courier and Chicago Defender, lauded Posey as, pound-for-pound, “the outstanding athlete of the Negro race in the 1920’s.”

Posey’s 35-year span from 1911-1946 as player, manager and owner of the iconic Homestead Grays baseball team of the Negro Leagues earned him enshrinement into the 2006 class of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Despite his size, Posey’s competitive spirit, tenacity and athletic DNA earned him high praise as one of the nation’s leading African-American basketball players during a career spanning from the early 1900s through to the mid-1920s. As an 18-year-old, Posey led his Homestead High School basketball team to the 1908 Pittsburgh city championship.

Upon graduating high school, Posey integrated the Penn State University basketball team, playing two years for the Nittany Lions. He also played briefly for the old gold and blue of the University of Pittsburgh. Posey’s collegiate basketball career extended for three more years at Holy Ghost College (now Duquesne University) under the pseudonym “Charles Cumbert.” Cumbert/Posey was the team leader in scoring between 1916-18. In 1988, Duquesne University inducted Posey into its sports Hall of Fame.

In 1912, Posey formed an all-black basketball team known as the Monticello Rifles, who went on to win the colored basketball world championships. In 1913, he organized the Loendi Big Five, named after an East African River. The exclusive “Black and Tan” club, located in the lower Hill District of Pittsburgh acted as the team’s sponsor. (Cum Posey Sr. served as the Black and Tan president.) The Loendi Big Five went on to win four consecutive black national titles on the hardwoods between 1918-21.

Ruck said Posey’s athletic accomplishments reflected a growing African-American consciousness and pride.

“Posey and his teams showed what the African-American community was capable of achieving during some pretty hateful times when segregation and theories of racial supremacy were the norm,” Ruck said,

With his election to the Basketball Hall, Cumberland Posey Jr. becomes the first individual to be enshrined in both the Baseball and Basketball Halls of Fame, an honor that in all likelihood will never be matched.

About the author: Eric Newland is a producer in development with a scripted episodic series. “The Parallel Game,” based upon historical events in the Hill District of Pittsburgh during the 1920’s and ’30s. Contact Eric at Eric@theparallelgame.com.

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