Learning to Win: Sports, Education, and Social Change in Twentieth-Century North Carolina

By Pamela Grundy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
The Fire of Rivalry
Men's College Athletics, 1880–1901

In the spring of 1891 the student magazine at a small African American college in Salisbury, North Carolina, set in type a curious complaint. “I don't know by whose authority, but the base ball grounds given to us by the President through the consent of the Faculty, has been trespassed upon by some person or persons taking it upon themselves to plough it up,” the author fumed. “Turnips are good things in their places; the same is true of the other members of the vegetable kingdom; but nobody will say that their proper place is on a base ball field in a college where young men are during the months of April and May.” 1

With this circumspect and yet insistent plea, students at Livingstone College defended their right to play sports while at school. At Livingstone in the spring of 1891, someone had apparently concluded that the direct benefits of vegetable cultivation outweighed any advantage to be gained from hitting, throwing, or chasing small, white balls. The students' protest cast the dispute as a conflict in authority, arguing that college president J. C. Price had specifically designated the piece of ground as an athletic field and implying that the instigator of “this false step in agricultural pursuits” disagreed with that decision. But beneath the issue of who controlled school property ran the implication that the action also voiced a broader protest, declaring that Livingstone's students should not take time from their studies for the frivolity of games. The complaint's anonymous author certainly suspected some such message was intended, observing, “It's rather strange to me that out of fifty acres of land, the base ball diamond should be the best acre on which to grow turnips, cabbage, water melons etc.” 2

Livingstone College records do not reveal whether the students carried out a threat to retrieve their field by means of “a mighty big turnip pulling.” Still, their cause was on the rise. Like basketball, football, and other “modern” sports that took shape in the last half of the nineteenth century, baseball was far more than just a game. The sport retained a rural air—its grassy field, the absence of a

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