Before Jackie Robinson: The Transcendent Role of Black Sporting Pioneers

Before Jackie Robinson: The Transcendent Role of Black Sporting Pioneers

Before Jackie Robinson: The Transcendent Role of Black Sporting Pioneers

Before Jackie Robinson: The Transcendent Role of Black Sporting Pioneers

Synopsis

While the accomplishments and influence of Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, and Muhammad Ali are doubtless impressive solely on their merits, these luminaries of the black sporting experience did not emerge spontaneously. Their rise was part of a gradual evolution in social and power relations in American culture between the 1890s and 1940s that included athletes such as jockey Isaac Murphy, barnstorming pilot Bessie Coleman, and golfer Teddy Rhodes. The contributions of these early athletes to our broader collective history, and their heroic confrontations with the entrenched racism of their times, helped bring about the incremental changes that after 1945 allowed for sports to be more fully integrated.

Before Jackie Robinson details and analyzes the lives of these lesser-known but important athletes within the broader history of black liberation. These figures not only excelled in their given sports but also transcended class and racial divides in making inroads into popular culture despite the societal restrictions placed on them. They were also among the first athletes to blur the line between athletics, entertainment, and celebrity culture. This volume presents a more nuanced account of early African American athletes' lives and their ongoing struggle for acceptance, relevance, and personal and group identity.

Excerpt

Before Jackie Robinson is a cooperative effort to recover a significant part of the past. It attempts to fill a significant hole in the literature of our American history. Why does that matter? Our personal histories make us who we are as individuals, and our collective histories provide us with a national identity as Americans. One of the characteristics of American culture that differentiates it from so many others in the world is the influence of race in American history. the genre of “new biography” that has emerged in the twenty-first century places greater emphasis on “the socially contested nature of identity constructions, so that it treats biography as acts of identity politics in the social struggles of a time,” a method that allows “social groups to reach an understanding about who they are and who they want to be.” This volume makes a distinct attempt to incorporate the factors of race and race politics over a transitional period in American history that eventually transformed the nature of American society and American history.

The choice of subjects provides a sense of chronological change and the incremental transition in race relations in American culture over approximately a half century. Sports provided a very visible means of that process. While many Americans might be familiar with Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, and Jesse Owens, all of whom operated on an international stage, we chose to examine the lives of no . . .

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