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Paul S. Boyer and Ronald Story

Americans had played bat-and-ball games for decades when, in 1845, Alexander Cartwright of New York devised the rules—foul lines, nine innings, three outs, ninety-foot basepaths—that created modern baseball. Cartwright's game quickly became popular with young clerks and urban craftsmen. By 1860, baseball had spread throughout the Northeast, and by 1870 to the rest of the nation.

The first teams were amateur, organized by men's clubs, the games ending with dinner and drinks. Some players earned good money from ambitious clubs, which charged admission in order to pay the players. The first wholly professional team was the Cincinnati (Ohio) Red Stockings of 1869, whose manager, Harry Wright, hired every player. Taking advantage of the burgeoning railroad system to tour the country, they challenged and defeated all teams they faced that year. In 1876, entrepreneurs formed the National League (NL), with salaried players and profit-seeking owners.

Baseball ...



Michael Ezra

Perhaps no sport has influenced African American culture and society more than boxing. Long before the sport was formalized, slaves worked as prizefighters, sometimes gaining their freedom if they earned their masters enough money and prestige through their exploits in the ring. The first American to compete for the world heavyweight championship was Bill Richmond, a black man and former slave, who took on and lost to England's Tom Cribb in 1805. The former slave Tom Molineaux, who gained his emancipation through pugilism, also challenged Cribb for the crown, losing bouts in 1810 and 1811. Long before their official participation in other professional sports, African Americans were making their mark in the prize ring.

Although boxing was the most popular spectator sport in the United States from the late 1840s until the Civil War blacks were excluded from the big money contests that captured the public ...



Elliott J. Gorn

Prizefighting began in England, where by the late eighteenth century it was acknowledged as the “national sport” but was also illegal. Boxers fought with bare knuckles, most forms of wrestling and hitting were permitted, and fights lasted until one or both contestants quit or could not continue. Tom Molineaux, a free black, was the first great American fighter. In two matches in England in 1810 and 1811, Molineaux came close to defeating the English champion Tom Cribb. Becoming famous in England, Molineaux remained virtually unknown to Americans, who initially showed little interest in the prize ring. This changed in the mid–nineteenth century as a modern working class, including many immigrants from England and Ireland, arose in American cities. A series of matches culminated with an 1849 championship fight, tinged with ethnic antipathy, between James “Yankee” Sullivan, an Irish immigrant, and the native-born Tom Hyer Hyer ...


There are over one hundred historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the United States, including public and private institutions, two-year and four-year schools, medical schools, law schools, and community colleges. The Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, defines an HBCU as “any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans, and that is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association.” The first HBCU, now called Cheyney University, was founded in Pennsylvania in 1837, although most black colleges were founded after the Civil War and are located in the South. In the twenty-first century Cheyney and all other HBCUs enroll students of every ethnicity and nationality.

Former slaves understood that education for blacks was the primary vehicle to achieve freedom Thus they lobbied for universal education and the creation of ...


Dale Edwyna Smith

African Americans dominated the sport of Thoroughbred horseracing as trainers and jockeys in the sport's formative years. Prior to the American Revolution, horseracing most often involved two horses racing on quarter-mile paths; after the Revolution, as many as twenty horses might race on tracks of up to twenty miles. Slaves competed in colonial competitions, and Austin Curtis was freed after the Revolution for service to his country, including keeping American horses out of the hands of the British cavalry.

Most of the African Americans in the early years of horseracing were slaves some of them possessed equestrian skills from West African horse tribes but they led extraordinary lives as professional athletes and competed with white counterparts as early as the colonial era for rewards that included cash payments Although black slaves were offered as bets between gentlemen racehorse owners winning slave jockeys were permitted to travel across state lines which ...


Bruce A. Glasrud

Roy Wilkins, born in Missouri and raised in Minnesota, wrote an essay, “Minnesota: Seat of Satisfaction,” for The Messenger's “These ‘Colored’ United States.” Dismayed by what he saw as African American apathy in the state, Wilkins, the future NAACP leader, argued that Minnesota blacks should organize to protect themselves against discriminatory treatment. Well might Wilkins have been concerned: four years earlier a brutal lynching occurred in Duluth of three black laborers wrongfully accused of rape. Though the lynching quickly led to an antilynching law (1921) and to public outcry against the lynching, it evidenced growing racial antipathy. By 1920 nearly 9,000 blacks resided in Minnesota, more than 8,200 of them in the major cities. At the same time, echoing Wilkins's fear, ghettos created by restrictive housing covenants developed in Minneapolis and Saint Paul.

Though black explorers traders fur trappers soldiers and farmers had found their way ...



Ellis Cashmore

Blacks' involvement in British sport dates back to the late 18th century, when black prizefighters astonished spectators with their prowess. That prowess remained a source of fascination for over 200 years, prompting explanations that were often based on, and indeed provided momentum for, racist theories.

1.After the first battle ...



Rob Fink

During the last half of the 1800s and the early 1900s, African Americans found their access to the sport of tennis limited. Tennis, like virtually every other sport in America at the time, was segregated. The majority of the courts in the country existed at white-owned country clubs and racquet clubs that refused memberships to African Americans. As colleges and schools began to form teams, these teams were also segregated, especially at southern schools. As a result, black tennis players sought alternative avenues for competition. One of the earliest opportunities for African Americans to compete in tennis occurred at historically black colleges and segregated high schools; the players at these schools played each other. The experiences of black tennis players followed the same racial patterns that occurred in other sports at the same time in America.

With the playground movement of the early 1900s public tennis courts allowed African Americans ...


Alonford James Robinson

Foot racing was a common feature of early American slave society. In the narratives of former slaves foot racing is recounted as a popular sport on southern plantations. In one such narrative, former slave Frederick Douglass described the popularity of sports such as Boxing, wrestling, and foot racing in his autobiography, The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881; revised 1892).

Since most sporting competitions during slavery were segregated, the opportunities for blacks to compete against whites in foot races were limited. However, in the 1830s the Highland Games—organized by Scottish American civic groups—and colored branches of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) featured inter-racial and inter-ethnic competition. Foot racing and fast walking (pedestrianism) were among the events in which African American athletes excelled.

In the latter half of the nineteenth century the performance of African American short and long distance runners were celebrated moments. Francis ...