Newnan-Fairburn Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.

#BHM – Emmett Littleton Ashford

In recognition of Black History Month, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. continues to recognize a few of its member’s “Achievements in Every Field of Human Endeavor”

#KappaHistoryIsBlackHistory

Known for his animated showmanship style of baseball umpiring, Emmett Littleton Ashford was the first African-American Major League Baseball (MLB) umpire. Ashford spent years trolling in the minor leagues awaiting his opportunity to umpire an MLB game. He persevered pursuing his dream of reaching the major leagues despite being continually passed over. Eighteen years after Jackie Robinson broke the MLB color barrier, Ashford became the first MLB umpire when he was promoted to the American League in 1965.

Born in Los Angeles, CA on November 23, 1914, Ashford was raised in Los Angeles, CA, working small jobs as child and graduating from LA’s Jefferson High School. While in high school, he was the co-editor of the school newspaper and participated in athletics. He initially attended Los Angeles Community College prior to attending Chapman College where graduated with a B.S. degree. While at Chapman, Ashford was initiated into the University of California Los Angeles chapter, the Upsilon of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. in 1941.

Ashford served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He worked in the U.S. Post Office for 15 years prior to umpiring as a full-time job. He started baseball umpiring as a hobby working for years the playgrounds and sandlots of Los Angeles. He worked in the California Interscholastic Baseball Association prior to joining the Southwest International League in 1951. His longest stint in the minor league was from 1954-1965 in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) where he was Umpire-In-Chief his last three years in the PCL. By the early 1960s, baseball writers, especially on the west coast and from African-American newspapers, publicly campaigned for Ashford’s promotion to the major leagues.

His first MLB game was opening day 1965 at Griffith Stadium in Washington, DC with then U.S. Vice President Hubert Humphrey in attendance. Ashford spent a short five years as an umpire in the major league baseball. In 1967, he was the first African-American to umpire the MLB All-Star Game. In 1970, Ashford was named to the umpire crew for the World Series between the Baltimore Orioles and Cincinnati Reds. Ashford was scheduled to work home plate for game six however the series was won in five games by the AL Baltimore Orioles.

After reaching mandatory retirement age for MLB umpires, Ashford, in retirement, worked in MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn’s office. He worked baseball clinics and old-timers’ games and had guest acting roles in various 1970s TV shows. Emmett L. Ashford passed away on March 1, 1980.

Kevin Scott

Grand Historian

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