The Diboll Dragons

From the 1930s until the 1950s the Diboll Dragons contributed to the entertainment and community pride of the African American population of Diboll. Southern Pine Lumber Company drove the creation and growth of Diboll, establishing the town's schools and churches and contributing to the creation of local baseball. Between one-third and one-half of the workforce of Southern Pine was African American, and these workers formed, almost exclusively, the line-ups of the Diboll Dragons.

The team of black mill workers played almost every Sunday with a special game on Juneteenth. Located along present day Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Pine Street, the home field of the Diboll Dragons featured simple fencing and covered bleachers constructed from the white pine milled in Diboll. Unlike most Texas semi-professional black teams, neither a black-owned business nor even the players' employer supported the Diboll Dragons financially. Each player personally bankrolled away game excursions and equipment purchases with the dozen or fewer players sharing in the gate receipts from both home and away games. Each nickel or dime ticket financed the baseball dreams of the young African American men of Diboll. Most semi-professional and even professional Negro teams in Texas suffered from a lack of funds, and even larger towns like Waco and Corsicana had a hard time keeping teams afloat. Diboll defied this trend through its loyal community support and supply of players from Southern Pine.

Unlike Major League white baseball where teams practically owned players, African American teams at every level suffered from the free movement of players in search of better pay and winning records. Black baseball provided one of the few ways to escape home towns for the opportunities of larger Texas cities or, for a lucky few, the world of professional Negro league baseball in the North. Players for the Diboll Dragons were typically local, but the team included players from Arkansas and Louisiana. Ruben "Jelly" Samuel rode the rails and walked from Shreveport to Diboll because the Dragons were better. In the world of semi-professional black baseball wins equaled larger gate receipts and usually better pay. Samuel joined the Dragons as a left-fielder and the ranks of Southern Pine as a planer.

While the Depression, World War II draft, and integration of Major League baseball hurt most semi-professional ball in Texas, the Diboll Dragons maintained support through the 1940s. This success was due to the isolation of Diboll and the strong connection to the African American community and workforce of Southern Pine Lumber. Despite this long success, in 1950 a game between the Diboll Dragons and an integrated team from Minot, North Dakota, would be the end of the Diboll Dragons and the beginning of the end for semi-professional baseball in Diboll. The two teams played in the local white stadium, which offered a better field and more seating. "Jelly" Samuel remembers the stadium completely full of locals cheering on their 1-0 victory. After the game a disagreement between players and managers over the amount of gate receipts led to most of the team quitting and several leaving Diboll for better opportunities. Many of the players who quit went on to form the Diboll Eagles, relying on high school players to fill in as needed. By 1958 the Diboll Eagles ceased as a semi-professional team and became a community team called the Diboll Tigers.

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