Black sports history from the year you were born
For more than 100 years, Black athletes have shaped the course of American sports. In the early 20th century, it was much harder for Black athletes to make an impact in their respective fields, but there were plenty of trailblazers, nonetheless. The Negro Leagues provided an outlet for hundreds of talented baseball players who were then disallowed from suiting up for teams in Major League Baseball. Boxing was another sport Black athletes excelled in, with many famous Black boxers becoming world champions and fighting in some of the country’s most storied venues.
Jesse Owens made a thunderous statement for Black athletes at the 1936 Olympics, which were held in Nazi Germany. A decade later, Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier, and professional sports forever changed as Black athletes quickly made their marks in a variety of leagues.
As Black athletes became more accepted in the American sporting landscape, they began using their platform for different causes. Few figures have used their voices like Muhammad Ali, who protested wars and was proud of his Muslim faith. Soon after, Tommie Smith and John Carlos sent their messages to the world at the 1968 Olympics, inspiring future social justice champions like Colin Kaepernick.
Stacker compiled a list of Black sports history from the year you were born. These memorable sports moments from the past century were compiled using information from professional league record books, statistical databases, museums, historical articles, and other official sources. The criteria for significant events included representation in international sporting events, record-setters, first coaches, most valuable players, major achievements, milestone markers, and Black athletes revolutionizing leagues and rules.
With athletes like Lamar Jackson, Sloane Stephens, Mookie Betts, and Brittney Griner on the rise, just wait to see the history Black athletes make in the years to come.
[Pictured: Michael Johnson carries the American Flag after winning the Gold in the Men's 200 meters during the 1996 Olympic Games.]
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1920: Negro National League
Rube Foster was one of many advocates for a professional baseball league for Black athletes. In 1920, the Negro National League was formed at a YMCA in Kansas City. In the coming years, future Hall of Famers like Satchel Paige rose to stardom in this league.
[Pictured: A team photograph of the 1916 St. Louis Giants of the Negro League.]
1921: Fritz Pollard becomes a player/coach
Hall of Famer Fritz Pollard was a man of many firsts. Pollard was Brown University’s first Black player, and became professional football’s first Black coach, later going on to play for and then couch the Akron Pros. Later that decade, Black players had all but disappeared from American professional football.
[Pictured: Fritz Pollard posing for a pass.]
1922: Battling Siki becomes boxing champ
Louis Mbarick Fall, known in the ring as Battling Siki, took on light heavyweight titleholder Georges Carpentier. Allegedly, the fight was fixed for Siki to lose, but after getting hit by Carpentier, Siki knocked out Carpentier to become champion.
[Pictured: 'Battling Siki' from Senegal, training to meet Georges Carpentier for the world light-heavyweight championship in 1922.]
1923: KC Monarchs reign supreme
The Kansas City Monarchs were one of the inaugural franchises of the Negro National League. After the Chicago American Giants won titles from 1920-22, the Monarchs stopped a four-peat by capturing the 1923 pennant.
[Pictured: An early photograph of the Kansas City Monarchs.]
1924: DeHart Hubbard makes Olympic history
At the 1924 Summer Olympics, DeHart Hubbard became the first Black American to win an individual gold medal. A long jump specialist, Hubbard went on to win Big Ten and NCAA titles at the University of Michigan. In 1957, Hubbard was elected to the National Track Hall of Fame.
[Pictured: William DeHart Hubbard, winner of the long jump at the 1924 Olympic Games.]
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1925: Harry Wills megafight controversy
Harry Wills was a top heavyweight contender in the 1920s, and in 1925, agreed to fight Jack Dempsey. But the governor of New York later canceled the fight, fearing race riots between Wills, a Black fighter, and Dempsey, a white fighter. Wills received $50,000 in compensation.
[Pictured: Harry Wills in 1916.]
1926: Tiger Flowers
In February, middleweight Tiger Flowers took on champion Harry Greb at Madison Square Garden. Flowers won a unanimous decision and became the first Black American middleweight world champion. In 1927, Flowers died following complications from surgery.
[Pictured: Tiger Flowers standing in a boxing stance in a corner of a boxing ring in a room in Chicago, Illinois.]
1927: Luther Farrell’s rubber arm
During the 1927 Negro League World Series, Luther Farrell pitched a rain-shortened, seven-inning no-hitter for the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants. Farrell actually gave up two unearned runs and his Game 5 gem staved off elimination. In total, Farell decided five games in the series, but Atlantic City ultimately lost to the Chicago American Giants, five games to three.
[Pictured: Negro League logo/patch from the early '90s.]
1928: Eastern Colored League folds
For much of the 1920s, the Eastern Colored League was considered one of the major Negro Leagues in the U.S. However, the league folded in 1928, with long-standing arguments over money, players, and scheduling.
[Pictured: The Negro League Baltimore Black Sox pose for team portrait sometime during the 1925 season.]
1929: American Negro League formed
Filling the void left by the Eastern Colored League, the American Negro League formed in 1929. The Baltimore Black Sox won the first league championship.
[Pictured: Three Baltimore Black Sox players.]
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