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The Unlevel Playing Field

A Documentary History of the African American Experience in Sport

A chronicle of significant athletic events and the lives and careers of numerous black sports heroes---and the very significant role of sports in the history of race relations in the U.S.

This extraordinarily rich compendium of primary sources charts the significant, intertwining history of African Americans and sport. The Unlevel Playing Field contains more than one hundred documents -- ranging chronologically from a challenge issued by prize fighter Tom Molineaux in the London Times in 1810 to a forward-looking interview with Harry Edwards in 2000. Introductions and head-notes provided by David K. Wiggins and Patrick B. Miller place each document in context, shaping an unrivaled narrative.

Readers will find dozens of accounts taken from newspapers (both black and white), periodicals, and autobiographies, by literary and sports figures, activists, historians, and others. Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. DuBois, Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey, James Weldon Johnson, Richard Wright, A. S. “Doc” Young, Eldredge Cleaver, Nikki Giovanni, John Edgar Wideman, bell hooks, James Baldwin, Roy Wilkins, Henry Louis Gates, and Gerald Early are included here.

Tracing the participation of blacks in American sport from the days of slavery, The Unlevel Playing Field touches on nearly every major sport and covers the full sweep of America’s past. Documents include discussions of the color line in organized baseball during the Jim Crow era and athletics in the American army, as well as portraits of turn-of-the-century figures like the champion sprint cyclist Marshall “Major” Taylor and boxers George Dixon and Jack Johnson.

Other selections tackle the National Tennis Association championship, high school basketball, debates over participation of black athletes in the 1968 Olympics, and the place of African American women in sport. Countless pioneering and modern-day African American athletes are spotlighted here, from Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens, Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, and Althea Gibson, to Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Venus and Serena Williams.

A thorough and informative bibliographical essay by Wiggins and Miller concludes the volume.


"An excellent addition to the literature not only of sports but also of history and race relations in the US."--Choice

"Wiggins and Miller have produced an astonishingly fine book that chronicles the intersection of race, sports, and social change using an impressive and comprehensive array of primary documents. All future discussions pertaining to the African American experience in sports must begin with The Unlevel Playing Field."--Lonnie Bunch, president of the Chicago Historical Society and coauthor of The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden

"The Unlevel Playing Field is a goldmine full of scholarly finds. This is a long-needed resource for those who not only want to know the history of blacks and sports, but also to have it told, in many instances, by the actual participants or prominent observers of the time. There are historical, cultural, sociological, and business nuggets to be found in every section of this important book."--Kenneth Shropshire, author of In Black and White: Race and Sports in America


David K. Wiggins teaches sport history at George Mason University. He is the author of Glory Bound: Black Athletes in a White America. Patrick B. Miller teaches history at Northeastern Illinois University. He is the editor of The Sporting World of the Modern South.

To order online:
//www.press.uillinois.edu/books/catalog/57yma6kg9780252028205.html

To order by phone:
(800) 621-2736 (USA/Canada)
(773) 702-7000 (International)

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