1619 Project Reading List: Sports and Racism

This August marked the 400th anniversary of slaves arriving in America. To commemorate the anniversary, The New York Times Magazine launched the 1619 Project, a major initiative led by Nikole Hannah-Jones, with the goal of re-framing our understanding of the impact of slavery and recognizing the contributions of Black Americans to American democracy.  The initiative has included a special issue of the magazine, podcasts, special events, a curriculum designed by the Pulitzer Center and more. Inspired by the 1619 Project, we’ve put together five lists of our publications related to the project on Black women’s activism, popular music, mass incarceration and lynching, sports and racism, and slavery, racism, and politics. As the year closes and a new decade beckons, we invite you to explore these lists alongside the 1619 Project and consider how we can use this important scholarship to move forward as a nation towards an antiracist future.

Sports and Racism Reading List

The Revolt of the Black Athlete

By Harry Edwards

This Fiftieth Anniversary edition of Edwards’s classic of activist scholarship offers a new introduction and afterword that revisits the revolts by athletes like Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos. At the same time, Edwards engages with the struggles of a present still rife with racism, double standards, and economic injustice. Again relating the rebellion of black athletes to a larger spirit of revolt among black citizens, Edwards moves his story forward to our era of protests, boycotts, and the dramatic politicization of athletes by Black Lives Matter.


Revisiting “The Revolt of the Black Athlete”: Harry Edwards and the Making of the New African-American Sport Studies

By Michael E. Lomax

Lomax examines the impact of Edwards’ political activism on research surrounding race and sport history.

“It’s Not Really My Country”: Lew Alcindor and the Revolt of the Black Athlete

By John Matthew Smith

As the most dominant and publicized college athlete of the time, Alcindor’s role legitimized the 1968 Olympic boycott movement. Smith revisits this oft-overlooked figure.

Globetrotting: African American Athletes and Cold War Politics

By Damion L. Thomas

Thomas follows the State Department’s efforts from 1945 to 1968 to showcase prosperous African American athletes including Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens, and the Harlem Globetrotters as the preeminent citizens of the African Diaspora rather than as victims of racial oppression. Exploring the geopolitical significance of racial integration in sports during the early days of the Cold War, this book looks at the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations’ attempts to utilize sport to overcome hostile international responses to the violent repression of the civil rights movement in the United States.

More Myth than History: American Culture and Representations of the Black Female’s Athletic Ability

Patricia Vertinsky and Gwendolyn Captain

Vertinsky and Captain trace the damaging myths of racial and gender “differences” through years of sport history.

“We Were Ladies, We Just Played Basketball Like Boys”: African American Womanhood and Competitive Basketball at Bennett College, 1928-1942

By Rita Liberti

Learn about how women fought for their femininity and their right to play competitive basketball both on and off the court.

I Fight for a Living: Boxing and the Battle for Black Manhood, 1880-1915

By Louis Moore

The black prizefighter labored in one of the few trades where an African American man could win renown: boxing. His prowess in the ring asserted an independence and powerful masculinity rare for black men in a white-dominated society, allowing him to be a man–and thus truly free. Louis Moore draws on the life stories of African American fighters active from 1880 to 1915 to explore working-class black manhood. As he details, boxers bought into American ideas about masculinity and free enterprise to prove their equality while using their bodies to become self-made men.


“The Color of My Writing”: Reflections on Studying the Interconnection among Race, Sport, and American Culture

By David K. Wiggins

Wiggins looks back at his experiences as a white academic studying African American athletes and how they have navigated the racial lines in their efforts to become full participants in sport.

“With All Deliberate Speed”: High School Sport, Race, and Brown v. Board of Education, by David K. Wiggins

Wiggins examines desegregation from the perspective of collegiate sports and the participation of African American athletes.

Benching Jim Crow: The Rise and Fall of the Color Line in Southern College Sports, 1890-1980

By Charles H. Martin

Chronicling the uneven rise and slow decline of segregation in American college athletics, Martin shows how southern colleges imposed their policies of racial exclusion on surprisingly compliant northern teams and explains the social forces that eventually forced these southern schools to accept integrated competition. Martin emphasizes not just the racism prevalent in football and basketball in the South, but the effects of this discrimination for colleges and universities all over the country.


American Ideas about Race and Olympic Races from the 1890s to the 1950s: Shattering Myths or Reinforcing Scientific Racism?

By Mark Dyreson

When Jesse Owens won 4 Olympic Gold Medals in 1936, some hoped it signaled the end of American racism. Dyreson looks into the debates surrounding racial athletic “differences.”

White Men Playing a Black Man’s Game: Basketball’s “Great White Hopes” of the 1970s, by Adam J. Criblez

In an era characterized by the contest between African Americans empowered by the civil rights movement and whites threatened by a perceived rise in black cultural awareness, white basketball fans searched for the next fair-skinned hero after Larry Bird’s retirement.

Before March Madness: The Wars for the Soul of College Basketball

By Kurt Edward Kemper

Taking readers inside the competing factions, Kemper details why historically black colleges and regional schools came to embrace commercialization. As he shows, the NCAA’s strategy of co-opting its opponents gave each group just enough just enough to play along—while the victory of the big-time athletics model handed the organization the power to seize control of college sports.

Keep an eye out for the last list on popular music, and make sure to check out previous lists on Black women’s activism, slavery, racism, and politics, and mass incarceration and lynching. You can find all the lists here. 

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