David Wiggins, Glory Bound -- Black Athletes in a White America

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David Wiggins, Glory Bound -- Black Athletes in a White America

David Wiggins' collection of essays focuses on black athletes' relationship to both the American white and black community and the closely connected issue of the role of sport in the black community. The underlying themes deal with black athletes' struggle against racist stereotypes and the duality of being both black and an athlete. It is a timely publication in the year Americans celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of Jackie Robinson's crossing the color barrier in national baseball and the media attention given the rise of pro golfing sensation Tiger Woods.

Wiggins published ten of the eleven essays in various sports history journals over a period of seventeen years. Glory Bound is intended to make his scholarship available to a wider audience and spur further research into the experience of black athletes.

One strength of the book is Wiggins' use of primary sources, especially black newspapers. Glory Bound can be thought provoking and does point to areas for further research. However the collection is not without problems. It does not include women athletes and the author often fails to place his discussions within a larger social framework. For example the first essay examining slave children's play activities needs an anchor in play theory to complete his analysis. Other essays would have been enhanced by a broader understanding of the theme of black self-help and more background on the Civil Rights Movement.

According to his introduction to the collection Wiggins is well aware of some of the problems, but was disinclined to remedy them for this publication. This reader wishes he had.

The three essays in Part One deal with the nineteenth century. "The Play of Slave Children in the Plantation Community of the Old South, 1820-1860" concludes that slave children's play contributed to the children's sense of community. Slave narratives provide the primary source of information and the essay is reminiscent of John Blassingame's work on slave culture. Of special note in this section are the biographies on two nineteenth century athletes: jockey Isaac Murphy and heavyweight boxer Peter Jackson ("Isaac Murphy: Black Hero in Nineteenth-Century American Sport, 1861-1896," and "Peter Jackson and the Elusive Heavyweight Championship: A Black Athlete's Struggle Against the Late Nineteenth-Century Color Line"). Wiggins examines the demands discrimination placed on both Murphy and Jackson and concludes that legalized segregation in the south played a role in the downfall of these two athletes. They were unable to achieve their full potential due to the color barrier. Little scholarship has appeared on black jockeys who dominated the profession in the post Civil War era. Perhaps Wiggins' article will spur further research in this area.

Black athletes and civil rights issues tie together the 5 essays in Part Two. "The 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin: The Response of America's Black Press," examined the black presses' stand on the proposed boycott of the Berlin games, their coverage of the games, and the meaning of the black participants' success to African Americans. By examining the 1936 Games from the perspective of the black press provides a fresh look of this much analyzed event. This essay and the following essay emphasize the role in and meaning of sport to the black community.

Black newspapers contribution to the struggle to integrate national baseball forms the basis of the next article, "Wendell Smith, the Pittsburgh Courier-Journal, and the Campaign to Include Blacks in Organized Baseball, 1933-1945." Smith, sports editor for the black owned Pittsburgh Courier-Journal, waged a 12 year campaign against the exclusion of blacks from white organized baseball. Though Wiggins notes the theme of black self-help running through Smith's writings, he fails to locate Smith within the long tradition of black self-help as a communal strategy. …