The Journey of the African-American Athlete
An HBO Video
Ten years after the Civil War, America’s population was moving from the rural areas to the cities –
Leisure time and sports were increasing
Blacks did not immediately embrace sports for two reasons
Sport seemed a waste of time when there was so much “work” to be done
Spectator sport had a primarily White audience and it seemed to Blacks they were participating
for the entertainment of White people.
The first Kentucky Derby was in 1875
Most of the jockeys of the day were Black as riding, training, and grooming horses were skills
they learned on the plantation.
In the first Kentucky Derby, 13 of the 14 jockeys were Black.
A Black jockey won the race.
Isaac Murphy was a 15 year old Black jockey in the race.
Although he did not win that first race,
he went on to win three Kentucky Derby races as well as many other events.
He became the
premier jockey (either Black or White) of his day.
At the height of his career, his earnings were $10,000 per year, which was 10 times more
than the average White person’s salary.
Many Whites resented this.
Around the turn of the century, the Jockey Club was formed and all Blacks were banned from
being jockeys in major horse racing events.
Major Taylor, a Black, was the premier bicycle racer of the day.
When he raced, often people along the route would try to sabotage him by shoving sticks in
this spokes, etc. (This did not happen to White riders).
In spite of all this, he was the American and two-time world champion.
Once again, around the turn of the century, the League of American Wheelmen was formed and
Blacks were banned from bicycle racing.
After the Civil War, baseball was an integrated sport.
However, in the late 1890’s the star player of the day, Cap Anson (who was an uneducated
southern White) refused to play the pro team from Toledo, Ohio as it had a Black, Moses
Fleetwood Walker, on it.
This was the start of Blacks being banned from Major League Baseball – it would last for 50
Until early in the 20
Century, all heavyweight champions were White
This changed when on December 26, 1908, when Jack Johnson beat Tommy Burns.
To get this
fight, Jackson had to chase to Australia, where a promoter offered Burns 30,000 to fight Johnson.
This was much more money than Burns could earn fighting White challengers so he accepted the
Jack Johnson easily won.
With his victory, Jack Johnson’s popularity with Whites plummeted.
In fact he was hated.
The call went out for a “Great White Hope” to beat Johnson.
Pressure was put on Jim Jefferies,
a former heavyweight champion who had retired three years earlier.
Jack London, an author and
newspaper writer wrote, “Jim Jefferies must come out of retirement …. The White man must be
Tex Rickard, a boxing promoter, set up the fight in Reno Nevada.
The fight created national