Through the inspiration of Horace M. Peterson III (1945-1992), founder of the Black Archives of Mid-America, a group of local historians, business leaders, and former baseball players came together to create the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in the early 1990s. It functioned out of a small, one room office in the Lincoln Building, which is located in the Historic 18th & Vine Jazz District of Kansas City, MO. It quickly incorporated, built a board of directors and staffing, and created a licensing program to support operations.
In 1994, it expanded to a 2,000 square-foot space in the Lincoln Building, which include a number photographs and interactive displays. Designed by ESA Design of Abilene, KS, this exhibit became the flagship for redevelopment in the historic district. Several hundred visitors, including school groups and dignitaries, marveled at this once "untold American history." Highlights of our stay in the Lincoln Building included the 75th Anniversary Reunion of the Negro Leagues and a visit from Vice-President Al Gore.
The 18th & Vine historic district was the center for black culture and life in Kansas City from the late 1800s-1960s. It was the hub of activity for homeowners, business, jazz music, and baseball enthusiast. Just outside of the district stands the Paseo YMCA building, which was built as a black YMCA in 1914. It served as temporary home for baseball players, railroad workers, and others making the transition to big city life in the Midwest. It was here that the Negro National League was founded in 1920. Although the district and the YMCA building were becoming blighted by the 1980s, they were recognized on the National Register of Historic Places.
During the late 1990s, plans were underway by city officials to create a new home to showcase Kansas City's jazz heritage and to revitalize the Historic District. City officials and the mayor worked to raise over $20 million in bonds to build a new facility to host the new American Jazz Museum and a new, permanent and expanded, home for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. This new 50,000 square-foot building opened in September 1997 and the Baseball Museum opened in November.
Our permanent home uses 10,000 square feet of the new space. Also designed by ESA Design, the new exhibit features multi-media computer stations, several film exhibits, hundreds of photographs, Field of 12 bronze sculptures and a growing collection of baseball artifacts. The museum raised over $2 million dollars to complete design and construction of this space. It has also welcomed several thousand visitors and dignitaries since, including Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, General (Ret.) Colin Powell, Jesse Jackson, Maya Angelou, Judith Jamison, Mike Dukakis, Walter Cronkite, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Barry Bonds, Tony Larussa, Isaac Hayes, Ossie Davis, Sinbad, and many, many others.