The first Black athletes in America were enslaved men who were commanded to compete. Some boxed, some ran foot races, others rolled logs and a few rode horses. Excelling in sport gave these athletes an elevated place in society, even in enslavement. Throughout history, the Black athlete’s abilities have afforded these talented few a protected status but almost always with conditions. Many who’ve achieved this distinction have used their unique platforms to call attention to injustice, unfairness, oppression and discrimination. While being lauded for their strength and dexterity, they were often intimidated, threatened with violence or death when they veered outside of the arena to speak, voice an opinion, boycott or take a stand.
The 2020 Black History Celebration exhibit and program series explore the role and status of the Black athlete as activist since the mid-19th century.