“Sometimes a brilliant athlete soars like a fiery skyrocket and spreads his name in glittering letters across Sportdom’s lofty skies.” — Ches Washington on Cumberland Posey, The Pittsburgh Courier, April 6, 1946
The only person to be inducted in both the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cumberland “Cum” Willis Posey, Jr. is regarded as one of the greatest athletes of his era and a legendary entrepreneur; he was voted into the baseball Hall as a pioneer/executive.
For thirty-five years, Posey was one of the most influential men in baseball. He knew the sport inside and out, having been at nearly every level at some point in his career. Posey was a player, manager, owner, executive and league officer.
Born June 20, 1890, to Cumberland Willis Posey Sr. and Angelina “Anna” Stevens Posey in Homestead, Pa., Cum was their youngest son. Homestead, an integrated suburb of Pittsburgh, was booming due to Carnegie Steel Corporation’s growth. Posey Sr, the son of freed slaves, is believed to be the first African-American to receive an engineering license in the United States. He got his start as a deck sweeper on a ferry boat and eventually founded his own shipbuilding company — Posey Steamboat Company. Anna, a teacher from Ohio, was the first African-American to graduate from as well as teach at Ohio State University. In addition to his other businesses, Cum Posey, Sr. was one of the original investors in the historically Black Pittsburgh Courier newspaper, where Posey Jr. later wrote regular columns called “Pointed Paragraphs” and “Posey’s Points.”
Posey Jr. always loved sports. At 5-foot-9, 145 pounds, he was described as small, agile and quick, scoring the majority of his points in basketball around the perimeter. In 1908, Posey Jr. led Homestead High to the city championship and played basketball at Penn State for two years. One of the best basketball players in the East; he was Penn State’s first Black student athlete. Along with his brother, Seward, and some friends, Posey Jr. organized the Monticello Athletic Association basketball club, also known as the Monticello-Delany Rifles — a team that held the consensus national Black championship for five years. The team changed its name to the Loendi Big Five in 1913 in recognition of its sponsor, the Loendi Social and Literary Club. Posey Jr. was not only the organizer, but the team’s star player.
In 1915, Posey Jr. was enrolled under the name “Charles Cumbert” at the Pittsburgh Catholic College of the Holy Ghost, now called Duquesne University. There, he continued his basketball stardom, leading the team in scoring for three consecutive seasons. He was also captain of the golf team.
Posey, Jr. was a player, manager and owner in the Negro Leagues. He began his career in 1911, playing outfield for the Homestead Grays. In ’16 and ’17, he became captain and field manager, respectively. Due to his experience organizing games for his basketball team, Posey Jr. started booking games for the club. By the 1920s, he had become owner of the Grays.
Around this time, Rube Foster’s Negro National League was formed in the Midwest. Posey Jr. opposed organized baseball, viewing barnstorming as more lucrative for the team. Raiding other ballclubs for talent, the Grays were a dominant independent baseball club, beating many Black and white baseball teams alike.