Ethnicity and Sport in North American History and Culture

By George Eisen; David K. Wiggins | Go to book overview

9

Sport in Philadelphia's
African-American Community,
1865-1900

J. Thomas Jable

The Civil War, although divisive, destructive, and debilitating to our nation and people, brought an end to slavery. For African Americans that meant freedom, citizenship, and franchise, amenities guaranteed by the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. But in postbellum America, such constitutional protections meant little for America's blacks. Whatever gains they made as a result of the war and its aftermath quickly dissipated during the ensuing decades when the emergence of Jim Crow initiated discriminatory practices that institutionalized segregation. What followed was a period of racial repression that relegated African Americans to second-class citizens.

To cope with the torment of racial discrimination, some African Americans turned to sport. Entertaining and diversionary, it temporarily took their minds off the harsh realities of surviving in a segregated society. Sport sometimes served as a rallying point which brought blacks together. Baseball, for instance, was a unifying force for segments of Philadelphia's African-American community. Games between local clubs and intercity rivals attracted hundreds of supporters who came chiefly from the city's black middle and upper classes. Boxing attracted the lower classes and at best was a mixed blessing. On the one hand it provided an avenue for black heroes to emerge and generated revenue for prizefighters, but on the other it was more a source of entertainment and gambling for whites who looked upon these Black Samsons as mere gladiators. Horse racing, like boxing, was a means of livelihood for a few poor blacks who became successful jockeys. Bicycling and athletics (track and field) were healthful diversions that offered both competition and relaxation. Day excursions to nearby watering holes and recreation sites gave black city dwellers temporary relief, while the more affluent could seek longer

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