Buffalo Soldiers in the West: A Black Soldiers Anthology

By Bruce A. Glasrud; Michael N. Searles | Go to book overview

The Black Soldier-Athlete
in the U.S. Army, 1890–1916

MARVIN E. FLETCHER

Today white Americans find nothing unusual in reading about or seeing Blacks and whites compete against each other in athletics. The same could not be said of the years between 1890 and 1950. Segregation made interracial sports competition infrequent. Athletics in the army was a major exception to this generalization. The army, in segregating the men of its units, created the conditions that permitted Blacks and whites to compete against each other. Blacks took advantage of the opportunity and showed Americans how much segregation deprived athletics of skilled and competent people. In addition, the competition and recreation programs made army life more attractive for the Black soldier.

For many reasons the period from 1890 to 1916 has rightly been called the worst in U.S. history for Blacks. Politically, legally, and economically their status continually grew worse. Neither of the national political parties displayed much interest in their vote or their welfare. In the South, where most of them lived, restrictions such as the literacy test and the poll tax, made it very difficult for them to vote. Most Blacks were landless sharecroppers, never able to get out of debt to the white landowner. Segregation became more complete after having been given sanction by the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). Athletics was but one of the many areas hurt by such segregation.

Not very much is known about the Black athlete in this period. There was some interracial competition but in only a few sports. At this time baseball was the only sport with many professional players. A handful of Blacks played in the International League in the 1880s, but by the early 1890s none were allowed to compete.1 At the same time all-Black

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