Grove Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

Color Blind

The Forgotten Team That Broke Baseball's Color Line

by Tom Dunkel

“Dunkel’s enthralling narrative of Bismarck’s talented collection of white and black players falls into the ‘must-read’ category.” —Cleveland Plain Dealer

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 384
  • Publication Date April 08, 2014
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2137-0
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $17.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 368
  • Publication Date April 09, 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2012-0
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $25.00

About The Book

When baseball swept America in the years after the Civil War, independent, semipro, and municipal leagues sprouted up everywhere. With civic pride on the line, rivalries were fierce and teams often signed ringers to play alongside the town dentist, insurance salesman, and teen prodigy. In drought-stricken Bismarck, North Dakota, during the Great Depression, one of the most improbable teams in the history of baseball was assembled by one of the sport’s most unlikely champions. A decade before Jackie Robinson broke into the major leagues, car dealer Neil Churchill signed the best players he could find, regardless of race, and fielded an integrated squad that took on all comers in spectacular fashion.

Color Blind immerses the reader in the wild and wonderful world of early independent baseball, with its tough competition and its novelty. Dunkel traces the rise of the Bismarck squad, focusing on the 1935 season and the first National Semipro Tournament. This is an entertaining must-read for anyone interested in the history of baseball.


“A delightful read. . . . this is a tale worth telling. As Satch said, no one has ever heard of that summer in Bismarck, when blacks and whites played and won together. Now they have.” —Steven V. Roberts, The Washington Post

“Captivating . . . This work delivers an important rendering of a too-little-remembered challenge to American society’s segregated practices. Strongly recommended.” —Library Journal (starred review)

“Dunkel well describes the loosey-goosey, not quite minor-league level of America’s regional teams in the 1920s and ’30s, with ballplayers bouncing across the map to join one team and then another. . . . A happy story.” —Bob Blaisdell, San Francisco Chronicle

“Tom Dunkel’s wonderfully reported book Color Blind casts a spotlight on a long overlooked but fascinating corner of baseball history.” —Cary Clack, San Antonio Express-News

“A rich history.” —Lou Babiarz, Bismarck Tribune

“Painstakingly researched . . . [here] is Paige in all his maddening glory, striking out 18 batters in his first game on the Plains, and Moose Johnson fighting his losing battle with drink as the Bismarck nine travel to Wichita, Kan., for the first National Baseball Congress semi-pro tournament. All of it is played out against a sepia backdrop of drought, dust storms, and swarms of grasshoppers at the depth of the Depression.” —Jay Price, Washington Independent Review of Books

“Enthralling. . . . Dunkel’s portrait of Depression-era/Great Plains baseball and the best team in all of baseball could not be more vivid. Color Blind fully records, at long last, Bismarck’s historic role in the integration of baseball. Grade: Home run.” —Mark Hodermarsky, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

Color Blind tells one of the great untold stories about baseball history, one that almost sounds too good to be true.” —Allan Barra, Chicago Tribune

“[Dunkel] does a terrific job of capturing a long-neglected topic in baseball history—semipro baseball—in its heyday, and paints a vivid picture of the sports’ role in the lives of the communities where it was played. He also shows that the history of integration in professional baseball is not as clear-cut as you might think.” —Chris Foran, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Color Blind by Tom Dunkel adds another chapter to the integration story, beginning with a brief riff on Robinson’s debut in Brooklyn before tracing the history of a semipro team from Bismarck, N.D., which in the 1930s put the lie to every pernicious myth about race and talent by fielding a championship team composed, in equal measure, of players black and white.” —David L. Ulin, The Los Angeles Times

“Nothing quite matches minor league baseball for reflecting the historical ambience of small-town America—unless it’s the even smaller town version known as ‘semi-pro.’ Journalist Tom Dunkel taps the semi-pro-mother lode in his first book, Color Blind, as he captures the bizarre history of the Bismarck Churchills, the first integrated professional baseball team. . . . Full of colorful baseball lore, as well as social commentary, Color Blind is both first-rate history and an entertaining underdog sports story.” —Shelf Awareness

“A terrific book. . . . It is funny, it is sad, it is spellbinding, required reading for anyone who loves baseball, who loves a vivid story well-told. . . . Color Blind is crammed with characters . . . laced with joy, rocked by sadness, framed by the civil rights struggle. . . . If you want to understand America, you have to understand baseball.” —Stan Hochman, Philadelphia Daily News

“I want to put down a guarantee: If you read the preface and chapter one, you’re gonna buy the book! Everybody’s got to get it! Tom Dunkel’s book Color Blind: high recommendation. It’s a thrilling story. If you love hidden histories, you’ll love this book!” —Dave Ziron, “Edge of Sports Radio,” Sirius XM

“This hits home for me. I’m a big fan of the history of baseball . . . Awesome. A lot of fun.” —Brent Stover, “The Tim Brando Show,” CBS Sports Radio

“Color Blind is brilliantly researched . . . I laughed out loud at the antics of Satchel Paige—Dunkel really does an amazing job of bringing these men to life. . . . And while he never shies away from the realities of racism during that time, he treats the controversial and contentious subject, delicately, and with great sensitivity. His portrayal of how life must have been like for a black player in the 1930’s seems spot on.” —BostonRedThoughts.com

“Tom Dunkel’s Color Blind took me totally by surprise. ” Neil Churchill and his team didn’t change the world. The color barrier didn’t officially fall in the game of baseball until Jackie Robinson took the field for the Dodgers for the first time. But for a period of time you might argue that Bismarck, North Dakota, was the only place where real baseball, between men of all colors, was really played. This book is the story of these men and it’s a great story. One worthy of being read over and over by fans who truly love the game and understand what we all lost during those years baseball was segregated. It’s a story not just about baseball, but about hard times, about prohibition, gambling, juke joints and the double standards of the day. More than that, it’s a very good read.” —Jonathan Leshanski, AtHomePlate.com

“An entertaining, must read for anyone interested in the history of baseball.” —YankeeMania.com

“Absorbing . . . Dunkel writes with a passion and flair that matches the gritty, hardscrabble North Dakota landscape and culture of the Great Depression. … A fascinating addition to baseball’s library.” —Bob D’Angelo, Tampa Tribune

“This is a baseball story, a story of the importance people placed on having a winning team to cheer as farms, businesses and towns failed.” —Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

“A tale as fantastic as it is true, as American as racism and baseball. . . . Dunkel’s extensive research shows—there’s enough detail here to satisfy the most rabid fan – and his portraits of Troupe, Paige, and Churchill are lively and warm.” —Kate Tuttle, Boston Globe

“Believe it or not: Bismarck, North Dakota, for a brief time in the 1930s, hosted the most dominant baseball team in the country, including the major leagues. Tom Dunkel has researched the story meticulously and told it beautifully, aided by a cast of characters that Hollywood might have envied. Color Blind is an amazing story of black and white that should be read all over.” —John Thorn, Official Historian, Major League Baseball and author of Baseball in the Garden of Eden

“Once upon a time, in a prairie town wrapped inside a Depression, a drought and the Dakotas, there lived a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma: A semi-pro baseball team half-black, half-white and half-crazy wondering if Satchel Paige would materialize so it could keep turning all of baseball’s and America’s rules about race inside-out. And wrapped it all would’ve remained if Tom Dunkel hadn’t ripped off the cover in Color Blind. . . and knocked it out of the yard.” —Gary Smith, Sports Illustrated senior writer

“The colorful yarn of an improbably integrated team’s wild days of independent baseball during the Great Depression ” A well-told account of a fascinating, and forgotten, chapter in the history of America’s national pastime.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Award-winning journalist Dunkel has not only researched and presented a virtually forgotten but very significant piece of sports history, he has also done it in a very entertaining, narrative nonfiction style. The principals, particularly Churchill and his players (including Satchel Paige) just simply come alive. Baseball fans will cherish this book, and it will become required reading among those who feel we can better understand today’s racial tensions by looking to the past.” —Booklist (starred review)

“A decade before Jackie Robinson broke the Major League Baseball color line in 1947, an integrated team captured the imagination of Bismarck, North Dakota . . . Dunkel delves into the history of players, towns, and baseball itself in constructing this portrait of a harmonious team rising above a segregated society. . . . a story that transcends championships, and an inspirational reflection on an otherwise dismal human rights history.” —Publishers Weekly

“The stories of Ted ‘Double Duty’ Radcliffe, Neil Churchill and the rest of the baseball boys from Bismarck deserve to be told alongside if not before those of Jackie Robinson, Branch Rickey and the Dodgers from Brooklyn. They lit up the diamond and toppled racial ramparts. Now, thanks to Tom Dunkel, we have those riveting tales from America’s heartland of unlikely champions and barrier-breakers.” —Larry Tye, author of Satchel, the Life and Times of an American Legend

“Give an exceptional storyteller an exceptional story to tell, and you just might wind up with a book as good as Tom Dunkel’s Color Blind.” —Gene Weingarten, Washington Post columnist and feature writer, two-time winner of The Pulitzer Prize

“Satchel Paige once said his interracial games helped ‘put a little chink in Jim Crow.’ Nowhere was that dent more audacious, more spectacular, or more flat-out fun than Satch’s flirtation with prairie ball in the depths of the Great Depression. Any historian wanting to document America’s bizarre racial attitudes during the days of segregation should study Tom Dunkel’s wonderful book. Color Blind captures Satch and his Negro League pals at their absolute rollicking best. What a fabulous addition to the literature of our national pastime!” —Timothy M. Gay, author of Satch, Dizzy, and Rapid Robert: The Wild Saga of Interracial Baseball Before Jackie Robinson

“This is a wonderful book, well worth the read. It merits a very large audience.” —Jim Lamare, Hispanic Link


Booklist Top Ten Sports Book of the Year
Finalist for the 2013 CASEY Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year


Shortly after 8 o’clock Satchel Paige ambled to the mound, bowlegged and heavy-footed. He had a walk made for football: slow and labored, like a halfback returning to the huddle after a long run, short of breath and favoring a strained groin. His oldest baseball friend, Ted Radcliffe, was crouched behind the plate with that silly slab of beef tucked inside his catcher’s glove. Paige took his warm-up pitches and then stood, still rubbing up the baseball, drinking in the scene. History most often gets made with fuss and fury: It might be Lucky Lindbergh landing a plane in Paris or armies bloodying a battlefield. Smaller moments worthy of serious attention can steal by on tiptoe. In Wichita, a mixed-race team was vying for the honor of being crowned champion; admittedly, not of the entire sports world, but definitely a hotly contested semiprofessional piece of it. They’d be performing in front of paying customers with prize money at stake and sportswriters looking on. This was new and different. Paige, who never over analyzed anything, sensed an occasion of some import. “Ten thousand people out here to see this game, ten thousand for a couple of semipro clubs,” he thought. “But it was the championship and ol’ Satch was pitching.”