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Better than the Best

Black Athletes Speak, 1920-2007 (V Ethel Willis White Books)

John C. Walter is professor emeritus of American ethnic studies at the University of Washington. He is the author of the 1990 American Book Award winner The Harlem Fox: J. Raymond Jones and Tammany. Malina Iida is a student at William S. Richardson School

Publication Year: 2010

These engaging and forthright interviews bring together the life stories of thirteen black athletes who have risen to the top rank of their sport. In revealing and fascinating detail, these athletes describe how they succeeded in the face of often daunting odds, often the result of economic barriers and racist attitudes and practices.

Published by: University of Washington Press


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xxxvi

The origins of this book are twofold. First, I wanted to provide a first-person account to demonstrate that black athletes have historically acted with a consciousness of their significance in the struggle against racism. The second is more personal, but...

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Sam Lacy: Sports Journalism

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pp. 2-21

During a storied career spanning over seven decades, journalist Sam Lacy was instrumental in the desegregation of sports in America. In 1937, Lacy spearheaded a campaign to integrate baseball by tirelessly arguing the case to baseball owners and administrators. He soon found support in...

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Mal Whitfield: Track and Field

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pp. 22-37

“Marvelous Mal” Whitfield was the first African American to win the prestigious James E. Sullivan Award (1954), an honor bestowed on the top amateur athlete in America by the United States Amateur Athletic Union. At the 1948 Olympics, Sgt. Whitfield of the U.S. Air Force won the gold medal in the 800 meters, setting an Olympic record, and earned another gold medal in the 4 x 400-meter relay. He was the first...

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Mae Faggs Starr: Track and Field

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pp. 38-57

Mae Faggs Starr was the first American woman to participate in three separate Olympic Games. From 1948 to 1956, she represented the United States in all important national and international track and field competitions, setting a number of world records in the process. She began her brilliant track career with the New York City Police Athletic League (pal), and under the tutelage of NYPD...

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Don Benning: Wrestling

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pp. 58-77

In 1963, Dr. Don Benning broke two color lines simultaneously when he was hired as head wrestling coach and assistant professor at Omaha University,1 becoming the first African American head wrestling coach at a predominantly white university, and the first African American full-time faculty member at Omaha University. In addition to these positions, Benning also served as assistant football coach and athletic counselor. In 1969 he became the first...

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Lenny Wilkens: Basketball

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pp. 78-97

Throughout a National Basketball Association (NBA) career spanning over four decades, Lenny Wilkens distinguished himself as a successful player, coach, and administrator. Wilkens began in the NBA as a first-round draft pick out of Providence College in 1960. He played a combined fifteen years for the St. Louis Hawks, Seattle SuperSonics, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Portland Trail Blazers. Wilkens became...

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Ken Hudson, NBA Referee

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pp. 98-113

In 1968, Ken Hudson became the first African American to serve as a full-time referee for the National Basketball Association (NBA). For twenty-two years, Hudson was a marketing executive for the Coca-Cola Company, and during his time there he managed all media-related activities and community-based events for New England Coke. In 1972,...

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Arthur Ashe Jr.: Tennis

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pp. 114-131

Arthur Ashe Jr. is the first and only African American male tennis player to win the U.S. Open (1968) and the Wimbledon Championship (1975). Raised in Richmond, Virginia, he played on the neighborhood courts next to his home under the guidance of his mentor, Dr. Robert W. Johnson. As a teenager, his outstanding performance on the court brought him to the attention of tennis legend...

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Wyomia Tyus: Track and Field

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pp. 132-149

Wyomia Tyus won the 100 meters at the 1964 Olympics and successfully defended her title at the 1968 Olympics, establishing her as the first person in Olympic history to win consecutive gold medals in that event. A member of Coach Edward Temple’s celebrated women’s track team, she ran as a Tennessee State University “Tigerbelle” from 1963 to 1968, breaking a number of world records during her tenure. At the famous 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games, she...

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Alan Page, J.D.: Football

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pp. 150-169

Alan Page distinguished himself as a nine-time All-Pro defensive tackle in the 1970s and as a Minnesota Supreme Court Justice since 1992. An All-American football player at Notre Dame, he joined the Minnesota Vikings in 1967 and became an integral part of the Vikings’ fearsome defensive line, popularly referred to as the “Purple People Eaters.” Page is the first...

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Jennifer Johnson: Paralympic Table Tennis

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pp. 170-185

At the 1988 Seoul Paralympics, Jennifer Johnson became the first African American woman to win a gold medal in a wheelchair table tennis competition. She was stricken with polio at the age of six and began playing sports for rehabilitation and recreation when she was twenty. After emigrating from Jamaica to the United States in 1980, Johnson began representing the United States in...

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Nikki Franke: Fencing

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pp. 186-203

Nikki Franke founded the women’s fencing program at Temple University in 1972 and is the first and only African American woman to coach fencing at a Division I university. Franke was a four-year letter winner and National Intercollegiate Women’s Fencing Association All-American while attending Brooklyn College, 1968–1972. She earned her master’s and doctorate degrees from Temple while coaching, and continued to compete nationally and internationally...

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Peter Westbrook: Fencing

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pp. 204-219

Peter Westbrook is arguably the best sabre fencer the United States has ever produced, breaking a number of barriers in his ascension to the top of his sport. As a child growing up in the projects of Newark, New Jersey, Westbrook began his career when his mother paid him to take up fencing as a means of keeping him off the streets. He soon excelled, and...

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Maurice Smith: Martial Arts

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pp. 220-233

A world-renowned professional martial arts competitor for over twenty years, Maurice Smith won the World Kickboxing Council (WKC) Light-Heavyweight Championship in 1983. That same year, he also won the World Kickboxing Association (WKC) World Heavyweight Championship, becoming the first African American to achieve those feats. He successfully defended...

Black Athletes Interviewed for the Blacks in Sports Oral History Project

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pp. 235-236

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 237-250


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pp. 251-264

E-ISBN-13: 9780295801698
Print-ISBN-13: 9780295990538

Publication Year: 2010