The hardening of racial lines during the first half of the twentieth century eliminated almost all African Americans from white organized sports, forcing black athletes to form their own teams, organizations, and events. This separate sporting culture, explored in the twelve essays included here, comprised much more than athletic competition; these “separate games” provided examples of black enterprise and black self-help and showed the importance of agency and the quest for racial uplift in a country fraught with racialist thinking and discrimination.
The significance of this sporting culture is vividly showcased in the stories of the Cuban Giants baseball team, basketball’s New York Renaissance Five, the Tennessee State Tigerbelles track-and-field team, black college football’s Turkey Bowl Classic, car racing’s Gold and Glory Sweepstakes, Negro League Baseball’s East-West All-Star game, and many more. These teams, organizations, and events made up a vibrant national sporting complex that remained in existence until the integration of sports beginning in the late 1940s. Separate Games explores the fascinating ways sports helped bind the black community and illuminate race pride, business acumen, and organizational abilities.
David K. Wiggins is a professor in the School of Recreation, Health, and Tourism and codirector of the Center for the Study of Sport and Leisure in Society at George Mason University. He is the author or editor of many books on sport, race, and American culture.
Ryan A. Swanson is assistant professor of history in the Honors College at the University of New Mexico. He is the author of When Baseball Went White: Reconstruction, Reconciliation, and Dreams of a National Pastime.
“Wiggins (George Mason Univ.) and Swanson (Univ. of New Mexico) have edited a 12-essay volume, written by recognized experts, about the segregated era in African American sports. The sections “Teams” and “Events” are probably too detailed, but the section on segregated black organizations is quite illuminating. The book argues that “separate games” were more than athletic competition, exemplifying black entrepreneurship and agency in a divided racist society. Black sportsmen and entrepreneurs tried to demonstrate to largely disinterested white sportsmen their athletes’ high skill levels. Separate sports programs, such as the Negro baseball leagues and historically black college and university conferences paralleled the organized white sports world, exemplifying “black self-help and organizational skills while at once engendering a sense of racial and community pride.” The book could be read in conjunction with the more biographical Before Jackie Robinson: The Transcendent Role of Black Sporting Pioneers (2017), edited by Gerald R. Gems. In addition to illustrations, the work under review includes endnotes.
—S. A. Riess, Northeastern Illinois University, Choice, July 2017
Summing Up: Recommended. All readers.
“This collection gives intriguing glimpses into the ways that African Americans worked, lived, played, and competed in a segregated America. Although some require a more careful reading than others, these essays prove that African American sport represented more than just contests on football fields, baseball diamonds, golf links. bowling alleys, and racetracks. These athletes showcased their skill and determination across the country in nontraditional civil rights arenas freighted with social, cultural, political, and economic meaning.”
—Alex Macaulay, The Journal of Southern History, February 2018
“Edited by David K. Wiggins—a widely read, senior scholar at George Mason University and former editor of the Journal of Sport History—and Ryan A. Swanson—an assistant professor of history at the University of New Mexico—the book successfully argues that ‘sport history will always be incomplete if academicians only study African American athletes in relation to their white counterparts and in the context of integration rather than segregation’ (p. xvi). It is a fine addition to the fields of sport history and African American history. … The eclectic group of contributors enriches Separate Games and makes it particularly intriguing and useful. … Separate Games should resonate with students, too, making it an excellent reader for courses exploring the history of sport or racial segregation.”
—The Journal of American History, March 2018
“This book bravely explores all-black sports teams on their own terms, calling for more scholarly studies of this history independent of integration. It also brings to light teams and individuals that have, for too long, been overlooked. … this work is an important intervention for the field of sport history; the actors deserve recognition, as do separate sports programs as catalysts for styles of play, organizational structures, and enterprise within and beyond the black community. The ways in which these actors and historical moments intersect to inform broader conversations on race, gender, class, and geography warrant more attention.”
—Kate Aguilar, Sport History Review, November 2017
Cuban Giants: Black Baseball’s Early Sports Stars — Leslie Heaphy
Smilin’ Bob Douglas and The Renaissance Big Five — Susan Rayl
The Philadelphia Tribune Newsgirls: African-American Women’s Basketball at its Best — J. Thomas Jable
The Tennessee State Tigerbelles: Cold Warriors of the Track — Carroll Van West
The National Interscholastic Basketball Tournament: The Crown Jewel of African American High School Sports During the Era of Segregation — Robert Pruter
The Black Heart of Dixie: The Turkey Day Classic and Race in Twentieth Century Alabama — Thomas Aiello
For Gold and Glory — Todd Gould
The East West Classic: Black America’s Baseball Fiesta — Rob Ruck
Creating Order in Black College Sport: The Lasting Legacy of the Colored Intercollegiate Athletic Association — David K. Wiggins and Chris Elzey
Game, Set, and Separatism: The American Tennis Association, a Tennis Vanguard — Sundiata Djata
Pars and Birdies in a Hidden World: African Americans and the United Golfers Association — Raymond Schmidt
Basement Bowlers: The National Negro Bowling Association and Its Legacy of Black Leadership, 1939-1968 — Summer Cherland
Winner of the 2017 NASSH Book Award for best edited collection.
Sport, Culture, and Society seeks to promote a greater understanding of the aforementioned issues and many others. Recognizing sport’s powerful influence and ability to change people’s lives in significant and important ways, the series focuses on topics ranging from urbanization and community development to biography and intercollegiate athletics. It includes both monographs and anthologies that are characterized by excellent scholarship, accessible to a wide audience, and interesting and thoughtful in design and interpretations. Singular features of the series are authors and editors representing a variety of disciplinary areas and who adopt different methodological approaches. The series also includes works by individuals at various stages of their careers, both sport studies scholars of outstanding talent just beginning to make their mark on the field and more experienced scholars of sport with established reputations.