Sunday, February 24, 2008

Histories of African American Athletes

Sports and athletics have proven to be an avenue to fame, fortune and advancement for African Americans. They have also provided a platform to challenge discrimination and help to change American society. At the same they still illustrate inequities within American society. Below are a few recent books looking at this issue.

Out Of The Shadows: A Biographical History of African American Athletes is a collection of biographical essays placing its subjects within a historical context and showing them as agents of social change. The book covers historical figures like Jack Johnson, Jesse Owens, Satchel Paige, Arthur Ashe and Muhammad Ali and current sports figures like Tiger Woods and Venus and Serena Williams. It includes chapters like “Jackie Robinson: racial pioneer and athlete extraordinaire in an era of change,” “Wilma Rudolph: the making of an Olympic icon,” “Jim Brown: superlative athlete, screen star, social activist,” and “Bound by blackness or above it? Michael Jordan and the paradoxes of post-civil rights American race relations.”

Carrying Jackie's Torch: The Players Who Integrated Baseball-- And America by Steve Jacobson also traces a history through biographical chapters. In addition to looking at the early players to integrate baseball like Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby, the author also discusses less well-known figures like Emmett Ashford, major league baseball’s first black umpire, and Bob Watson, the first African-American to be hired as a baseball executive.

Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics by Jeremy Schaap looks at the courage of track star Jesse Owens within the wider story of the 1936 Olympics and the racial and religious tensions of Nazi Germany.

William C. Rhoden, a columnist for the New York Times has written $40 Million Slaves: The Rise, Fall, And Redemption of The Black Athlete. Mr. Rhoden’s thesis is that success and wealth on the playing field for African American’s has not translated into power or influence within the sports industry.

Stepping Up: The Story of Curt Flood And His Fight for Baseball Players' Rights by Alex Belth is about baseball player Curt Flood, a pioneering, tragic figure who fought against baseball's reserve clause, but never realized the benefit of becoming a free agent. A newer book, A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood's Fight For Free Agency In Professional Sports by Brad Snyder, is now on order at the library.

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