How a WWII Marine Became Major League Baseball’s First Black Pitcher

February 25, 2022Coffee or Die
Dan Bankhead Marine WWII baseball pitcher coffee or die

Sgt. Dan Bankhead served in the US Marine Corps Reserves between 1942 and 1946 and played on the segregated Montford Point baseball team to help raise morale. He later became the first Black pitcher in Major League Baseball. Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.

Dan Bankhead was the first African American pitcher in Major League Baseball. Before that, he played in Negro League baseball for the Birmingham Black Barons and the Memphis Red Sox from 1940 to 1947.

Then when MLB began to desegregate, he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1947 to 1951.

During World War II, Bankhead served in the Marine Corps Reserves from April 1942 to June 1946, when he was honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant.

While in the Marines, he played for the Montford Point baseball team at Montford Point, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and toured the United States to help raise morale and support for the war effort.

Marines training at Camp Montford Point.
Marines training at Camp Montford Point. Screenshot from YouTube.

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802 in June 1941, Black people were, for the first time, permitted to join the Marine Corps. Bankhead received his recruit training in a segregated unit. Between 1942 and 1949, the camp at Montford Point was a recruit depot for Black recruits, training 20,000 African Americans.

When Bankhead joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, the Marine Corps was still segregated. In 1948, by Executive Order 9981, President Harry S. Truman ordered the military to integrate.

In 1974, Montford Point was renamed Camp Gilbert H. Johnson.

Dan Bankhead Montford marines baseball coffee or die
Black enlistees and white non-commissioned officers comprised the baseball team at Montford Point on March 1943. Dan Bankhead was considered one of most dominant pitchers in the Negro Leagues before he became the first Black pitcher in the MLB. Photo by the Library of Congress.

Camp Johnson became the home of the Marine Corps Combat Service Support Schools. In 2007, a documentary entitled The Montford Point Marine Project was released, honoring the Black Marines who trained at Montford Point.

Regarding Bankhead’s MLB pitching career with the Dodgers, he amassed a win-loss record of 20-9; earned run average of 4.83 and 228 strikeouts.

Bankhead, born May 3, 1920, in Empire, Alabama, died of cancer at a Veterans Administration hospital in Houston, Texas on May 2, 1976, a day before his 56th birthday.

Read Next: WATCH: ‘Bullets Don’t Have Color’ — Montford Point Marine Recalls Defeating Racism, Tyranny in World War II

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Coffee or Die

Coffee or Die is Black Rifle Coffee Company’s online lifestyle magazine. Launched in June 2018, the magazine covers a variety of topics that generally focus on the people, places, or things that are interesting, entertaining, or informative to America’s coffee drinkers — often going to dangerous or austere locations to report those stories.

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