My Plan for October

This month, I plan on beginning to study the methods and instances of integration individually in each sport. This includes, but may not be limited to: professional baseball, football, basketball, and hockey, as well as collegiate football, baseball, and basketball, particularly in Texas universities and southern athletic conferences such as the SEC and ACC.

I will examine the social and economic reasons for this integration and the ways in which it came about i.e. at the insistence of coaches or athletic directors, because of players’ talent, etc. I will do this by continuing my research at the Avery Center and by reading “Jim Crow in the Gymnasium: The Integration of College Basketball in the American South” by Charles H. Martin as well as Outside the Lines: African Americans and the Integration of the National Football League by Charles K. Ross. Because this topic is so broad and vital to my project, I will most likely continue to study it next month in November as well.

The Avery Research Center

Part of the College of Charleston, the Avery Research Center has been invaluable in my research and has provided me with tons of material for use in investigating my topic. It is dedicated to the collection and preservation of African American history in Charleston and the Lowcountry, and also houses volumes and reference books on national African American culture as well.

My research there has helped immensely in my project by supplying me with in depth documentation and analysis on integration in both collegiate and professional sports and the impact that has had on African Americans throughout the past century, including today. As the year continues and I expand upon different aspects of my topic, I will certainly continue to use the Avery Center as a source for extensive research.

Meet… Althea Gibson

“Shaking hands with the Queen of England was a long way from being forced to sit in the colored section of the bus going into downtown Wilmington, North Carolina.”

The first African American to win a Grand Slam, Althea Gibson changed the world of tennis when she finally captured the women’s singles championship at Wimbledon. Never before had a person of color been the champion at the All England Club, a place that is considered to be hallowed ground in the sport of tennis. It is a place steeped in tradition- including a previous tradition of segregation. But those days were banished when Althea lifted the Venus Rosewater Dish above her head and exclaimed in quiet exultation, “At last, at last!”

Born in rural South Carolina and raised in Harlem, Althea displayed her unparalleled athletic prowess at a young age, excelling in basketball, softball, and even boxing. Once she discovered tennis, however, it became clear which sport she wanted to pursue. Her tennis talent was noticed by Buddy Walker, a supervisor on the play streets of Harlem, and he began to practice with her against the wall of a handball court. As she began to improve, she became an honorary member of the Cosmopolitan Club, a Harlem tennis club where influential blacks of the day played their tennis.

During this time, the United States Lawn Tennis Association (now the USTA) was segregated and would not allow a black woman to play, not matter how much she excelled in the sport. Instead, Althea played in the American Tennis Association, a predominantly black organization that gave African Americans an opportunity to play in tournaments when they were denied by the USLTA. From 1947 to 1956, Althea’s dominance in the ATA made her one of its most successful players in history. But for her, and for other African Americans in the tennis world, this was not enough. Althea had proved that she was as good as anyone else in the world. Now she needed to be allowed to prove it by playing in the USLTA.

Members of the ATA began to continually petition the USLTA, advocating on Althea’s behalf. A white tennis star, Alice Marble, wrote an open letter to American Lawn Tennis Magazine, convincing the USLTA to allow Althea to play. These measures, coupled with a changing racial atmosphere, finally compelled the USLTA to permit Althea to play in its events in 1950. Although she initially had a strong showing in their tournaments, it would take a while before she would become a champion.

This breakthrough occurred in 1956, when Althea finally silenced all critics and won the French Open, becoming the first African American, male or female, to win a major title. It wasn’t until she captured the Wimbledon title a year later, however, that Althea proved that she had truly shattered racial barriers by becoming the champion at tennis’s most prestigious event. The excitement surrounding this achievement was palpable back in New York, and Althea was welcomed home with a victory parade. She would then follow up this achievement by capturing the U.S. Open title the same year.

Althea successfully defended her titles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open the following year, rising to No. 1 in the world in the process. Yet despite her dominance on the court, she still remained poor off of it, and it was because of these financial difficulties that she retired from the sport after winning the 1958 U.S. Open. Her legacy still remains, however, as a trailblazer for African Americans in a sport that even still today is predominately white. She laid the foundation for black tennis players in years to come. Without Althea Gibson, the sport may still be segregated. Venus and Serena Williams may not have risen to their current dominance of the game. And we would have been deprived of one of the greatest black tennis players of all time.

 

 

Citations

Harris, Cecil, and Larryette Kyle-DeBose. Charging the Net: A History of Blacks in Tennis from Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe to the Williams Sisters. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2007. Print.

Gibson, Althea. Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Web. 13 Sep. 2012. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/media/59476/Althea-Gibson>.

“Althea Gibson- “No Matter What Accomplishments You Make…”” Carolina Heart Strings. N.p., 26 June 2011. Web. 13 Sept. 2012.

Sport and the Color Line: Black Athletes and Race Relations in Twentieth-century America

Sport and the Color Line: Black Athletes and Race Relations in Twentieth-century America

Edited by Patrick B. Miller and David K. Wiggins

This book uses sports as a way of exploring race relations in the 20th century. Its collection of articles on the subject trace to changes of the color line throughout the years due to breakthroughs and first championed by black athletes and civil right workers.

Sport and the Color Line evaluates the movement for equality in racial relations through the world of sports and athletics and focuses on the change initiated by athletes during both the Jim Crow Era and post-desegregation, a topic which essentially encompasses my entire area of study.

Race and Sport: The Struggle for Equality on and off the Field

Race and Sport: The Struggle for Equality on and off the Field

Race and Sport is a collection of six essays discussing the role of sports in African Americans’ struggle for equality in American society. Topics vary from analysis of the role of Fritz Pollard, a black football player in the National Football League before the establishment of a color barrier to details of the integration of spring training in the MLB.

This provides background on the contributions made by various individuals in athletics to promote racial equality. Another essay analyzes the way in which media depiction shapes the public perception of modern day African American athletes, a topic that I hope to fully examine as part of my senior project.

Each essay covers a different aspect of role or African Americans in sports, which provides a broad overview of the many facets of my topic.

 

Meet… Tommie Smith

“I had no regrets, I have no regrets, I will never have any regrets. We were there to stand up for human rights and to stand up for black Americans. We wanted to make them better in the United States.”

Tommie Smith, a track and field legend, said this after a controversial protest that he and fellow American teammate John Carlos launched at the 1968 Olympic Games. After coming from nothing, Tommie Smith emerged as a high profile track star in college, and eventually went on to compete in the Olympics. It was there that he and Carlos sparked a protest for social and racial equality that would forever change not only their lives, but also the role of African Americans in athletics.

After placing 1st and 3rd, respectively, in the Olympic 200 meter final, Tommie Smith and John Carlos decided that as members of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, they should use this opportunity to take a stand for equality.

When Smith and Carlos walked out of the stadium tunnel, they each held their shoes behind their backs and wore black socks, as a symbol of the black poverty they and others had come from. Tommie Smith wore a black scarf in order to show black pride, and John Carlos had his jacket unzipped to show his solidarity with all the blue-collar workers. Carlos also wore a beaded necklace that, as he said, “was for those individuals that were lynched, or killed and that no-one said a prayer for, that were hung and tarred. It was for those thrown off the side of the boats in the middle passage.” (The middle passage is the term referring to the trip captured Africans were forced to make from Africa to America to become slaves).

They received their medals, and then, as the National Anthem began to play, lowered their heads and raised one black gloved fist to crowd, performing what was later called “The Black Power Salute”. Their silent gesture of social and racial equality extended throughout the entire National Anthem, and when it was finished they each bowed to the boo’s emanating from the crowd, and turned and walked out of the stadium. Tommie Smith said of the gesture, “If I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight.”

 

This stand for equality was not without repercussions. The Olympic chairmen were furious that such an action had been taken, especially by and for African Americans. As a result of their actions, both Tommie Smith and John Carlos were kicked off the U.S. Olympic team and expelled from the Olympic Village. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) stripped them of their medals and banned them from all other Olympic competition.

When they travelled back to their homes, they and their families received constant death threats. They were also social outcasts. Tommie Smith’s mother later died of a heart attack as a result of her stress from receiving manure and dead rats in the mail from local farmers. John Carlos’ wife committed suicide because she could not stand life as an outcast. But never once did either of the two men regret their actions.

 

Tommie Smith was a man who spoke out for social equality, without speaking at all. He answered the cry for help among those discriminated against, without giving out a cry himself. As the great Arthur Ashe said, he “forever changed the image of the black athlete” in a silent gesture that stood out among the chaos of the turbulent year of 1968. Because at the Summer Olympic Games of that year, along with fellow civil rights leader John Carlos, he raised one black gloved fist to the crowd, as the National Anthem played, and changed the path of racial discrimination forever.

 

 

Citations

Aaseng, Nathan. “Smith, Tommie” African American Athletes, A to Z of African Americans. New York

Hartmann, Douglas. Race, Culture, and the Revolt of the Black Athlete, University of Chicago Press, 2003

Slot, Owen. “Olympics: Tommie Smith and John Carlos Warn of the Price of Protest” The Times April 12, 2008 Times Online April 14, 2009 http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/olympics/article3732202.ece

Smith, Tommie and David Steele Silent Gesture Temple University Press, 2007

“Smith, Tommie”. Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia 2009. Grolier Online, 25 March 2009 http://gme.grolier.com/cgi-bin/article?assetid=0269455-0