Emmett Ashford broke a significant color barrier in Major League Baseball by becoming the league’s first Black umpire 50 years ago this week. Ashford was inspired by a previous barrier breaker in Jackie Robinson, and was determined to make his mark on history in similar fashion.
Ashford was born November 23, 1914 in Los Angeles, California. He played baseball in high school and continued playing while he at Chapman College. In 1936, Ashford took a job as a postal clerk and worked there for 15 years. It was around this time Ashford tried his hand at semi-pro baseball, He wasn’t successful as a player, so he took up umpiring after he was asked to fill in for an absent official.
During World War II, Ashford, now part of the U.S. Navy, heard the news that the Brooklyn Dodgers signed a Black player. In an interview, Ashford said that Robinson’s signing inspired him to try to become the MLB’s first Black umpire.