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

8

"END JIM CROW IN SPORTS"

The Leonard Bates Controversy and Protest at New York University, 1940-1941

Donald Spivey

STUDENTS AT NEW YORK University made a significant contribution to the civil rights movement when, during 1940 and 1941, they took a stand against racial discrimination in collegiate athletics. An historical examination of the event, the issues involved, the era itself, and the internal and external impact of the protest can tell us much about the nature of social activism, establishment reaction, the educational and social environment of the period, the development of big-time intercollegiate athletics, and the importance of sport and the black athlete to the history of American race relations.

Jim Crow has been an ever-present factor in American society, and it was alive and well during the years just prior to the entrance of the United States into World War II. Despite the nation's fervently professed ideals of democracy and equality, and the denunciation of Hitlerism, racism and discrimination pervaded every segment of American society even as the country prepared to enter yet another war to make the world safe for democracy and freedom.

Blacks were discriminated against, segregated, and despised as they sought to participate in the war effort. The economic and employment opportunities that the burgeoning war economy made possible were for blacks severely circumscribed. In Chicago, for example, thirty-five industries had been awarded National Defense contracts in excess of $160,000,000 by 1940. The Chicago chapter of the Urban League reported that blacks received none of the newly created jobs nor practically any benefits to them or their communities from the new defense contracts. 1

To be treated unfairly in the employment realm was one problem. To be treated as sub-human was more pernicious. Local draft boards often took it upon themselves to act as a bulwark against integrating the military, declaring blacks as physically unfit for military service without specificity. The popular view in the South likened the Negro to the monkey, possessing a tail and, in general, a subspecies. Some southern draft boards rejected all black draftees and volunteers in their districts as physically or otherwise unfit for military duty. Northern boards were also tainted with the brush of Jim Crow. William Pickens, field secretary of the NAACP, complained to Clarence Dykstra, national director of the Selective Service, that Negro draftees and volunteers were being discriminated against. Pickens wrote directly to Colonel Arthur McDermott, director of Selective Service for the New

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