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

By Patrick B. Miller; David K. Wiggins | Go to book overview

III

IMAGES OF THE BLACK ATHLETE AND THE RACIAL POLITICS OF SPORT

"THE CIVIL RIGHTS STRUGGLE is not over," the Reverend Joseph Lowery proclaimed early in 2003 during one prominent commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. "Some of us are living the dream," said the cofounder (with King) of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, "but most people, including whites are not. Today's generation does not have to worry about lunch counters and sitting at the back of the bus. But they do have to deal with police brutality and getting unjustly fired and abused at the workplace. Everything has changed, and nothing has changed."(Chicago Tribune, January 20, 2003). Just so: more prisons than schools have been built in recent years, and a hugely disproportionate number of their inmates are African Americans; meanwhile the executive branch of the government has registered its unmistakable opposition to even the most modest affirmative action programs in the nation's colleges and universities. Du Bois's fret and forecast about the color line still resonates one hundred years later-as sociologists, cultural commentators, and public policy analysts grapple both with the legacies of segregation and discrimination and the persistence of racism in contemporary America.

At the same time, historians and public intellectuals have added to the doctrine of rights the discourse of "representation." While political battles are still being fought, much of the debate over the meaning of black culture and race relations in America occurs when scholars and commentators such as Henry Louis Gates, Jr., bell hooks, Michael Eric Dyson, Jesse Jackson, and John Edgar Wideman fashion innovative frames of reference for the meanings of civil rights, full citizenship, and black identity in twenty-first century America-even as their principal point of departure is often "the dream" that King enunciated in Washington, D.C, in the late summer of 1963.

These shifting contexts-beyond desegregation-can be assessed in different ways. Today a huge percentage of the competitors in the NFL and NBA are African Americans;

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