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‘He set a standard of excellence in sports’: The career, legacy of Cumberland Posey

PITTSBURGH — In a city rich with iconic sports figures, an exclusive few laid the foundation for what is known as the “City of Champions.” Cumberland Posey is among them.

His strong Homestead roots gave way to a life of groundbreaking achievement.

“He set a standard of excellence in sports,” said Samuel W. Black, Director of the African American Program at the Heinz History Center. “At least for African Americans in Pittsburgh, he was sort of the legacy that they followed.”

Posey is considered by many to be Pittsburgh’s first multi-sport star. He excelled in basketball and baseball and was fueled by a competitive spirit, according to his granddaughter, Dr. Nancy Boxill.

“My grandfather was very, very competitive,” she said. “He used to say there’s no such thing as a good loser.”

Losing was an unfamiliar territory for Posey.

At Duquesne University, known then as the University of the Holy Ghost, Posey led the basketball team in scoring for three straight seasons.

Black explains Posey played at a time when racial barriers were high, so Charles Cumbert got the credit.

“Cum Posey, in his youthful years, as a college student, could pass for white and he played at Duquesne and he played at Penn State under assumed names,” she said.

Today, Posey is in Duquesne’s Sports Hall of Fame under his real name. He is considered the first Black athlete at both Duquesne and Penn State.

Posey constantly sought new opportunities for himself and others. He founded the Monticello Athletic Association, the North Side’s all-Black basketball team.

Posey led the team to several titles. According to Black, Posey also had a hand in making the game what it is today.

He was essentially shooting three-point shots well before they became mainstream.

“Posey was shooting those with no three-point line back then, long-range jump shots, and so there was a revolution in the game of basketball,” Black said.

As the star and founder of the Monticello Athletic Association, Posey showed success was possible when a player also called the shots for the business.

It’s a feat he repeated when he bought the baseball team he played for, the Homestead Grays.

Boxill says her grandfather, who was also a beloved family man, often gave players more than a job.

“My grandparents’ house had a third floor, and so it was not uncommon for players to be living in our house,” she said.

The Grays won nine straight Negro League titles and three Negro League World Series Championships.

“That’s his greatest impact, in my opinion,” Black said. “He was a manager, and a teacher, an expert in the game of baseball and was able to lead some of his players to the hall of fame.”

It’s possible Posey even had influence over the early days of the Pittsburgh Steelers. His management style caught the eye of the team’s owner and founder, Art Rooney Sr. Mutual admiration sparked a lasting friendship.

“They taught each other, I’m told, many intricacies and discussed many opportunities within professional sports,” Boxill said. “They learned from each other about talent, talent acquisition, the management of the business.”

Boxill said the two families stayed close even after Posey died in 1946. The Rooney family even helped Posey’s family connect with the National Baseball Hall of Fame, where Posey was inducted in 2006.

He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016.

Posey is believed to be the only person enshrined in both.

He may have died far before he received widespread recognition for his achievements, but today, his legacy transcends generations.

“You can meet the challenge,” Boxill said of what her grandfather’s legacy means to her. “It may not always succeed in the way that you like, to the extent that you like, but you can meet the challenge. I think if you look at his athletic contributions, as well as his civic contributions, that’s part of the story, right? The courage to meet the challenge.”

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