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  • Jump for Joy: Jazz, Basketball & Black Culture in 1930s America
  • Pellom McDaniels III
Caponi-Tabery, Gena . Jump for Joy: Jazz, Basketball & Black Culture in 1930s America. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2008. Pp. xx+264. Photographs, notes, and index. $26.95.

In Jump for Joy: Jazz, Basketball & Black Culture in 1930s America, Gena Caponi-Tabery argues that African Americans used music, dance, and sports as effective forms of resistance to the challenges found in American society during the first half of the twentieth century. Specifically, it was the development of swing music in the Midwest with band leaders like Count Basie that coincided with the creation of dances such as the Lindy Hop that would be responsible for transforming and elevating African Americans and their sense of individuality and freedom, especially those newly migrated from the South. According to Caponi-Tabery, both forms of artistic expression required participants to reach for the highest of heights in their respective performances. The emphasis on "jumping" was connected to the fast-paced rhythm and beat the swing bands performed, and the "good time" being had by those in attendance (p. 72). Jump for Joy suggests that the development of black expressive culture in the 1930s was a direct result of the migration of blacks into the more prosperous North where they collectively were able to elevate themselves and their sense of freedom.

Even still, the success of athletes such as Joe Louis and Jesse Owens represented examples of "stamina, skill and courage" that working-class African-American men and women could gravitate towards for inspiration within the challenging racially-charged America of [End Page 449] their birth (p. 42). Caponi-Tabery argues that "Joe Louis—and other outstanding athletes and entertainers of the day—were conspicuous black achievers in a racist society that discouraged black achievement" (p. 134). Each of their performances was important to a majority of newly relocated blacks seeking transformation during the interwar years in America, especially African-American men, who had experienced themselves anew during the First World War. "As the energy of African American dancers, musicians, and athletes coalesced into political legislation" writes Caponi-Tabery, "the jump—in music, dance, and basketball—transformed American popular culture in ways so complete we scarcely remember a time without it" (p. 144). However, tensions between the working-class poor who consumed these performances and the black middle class and intellectual elite who repudiated the elevation of entertainment as a waste of time and resources, threatened to unravel the dynamic representations of African-American resistance to the de facto racism woven within the American body politic.

Indeed, between 1925 and the late 1930s African Americans experienced an unprecedented degree of growth in social mobility, cultural advancement, and political influence. The self-reliance movement in urban environments such as Harlem (New York), Kansas City (Missouri), and Chicago (Illinois) proved critical to the quest for full-citizenship rights and privileges for blacks, who sought to shake free from the stigma associated with their race. Caponi-Tabery recognizes that within the burgeoning black middle class of doctors, teachers, and lawyers, there was a resistance to identifying the success of athletes as important to the progress of the race. Instead, leaders such as A. Philip Randolph, James Weldon Johnson, Carter G. Woodson and W.E.B. DuBois continued to push for the intellectual growth and development of the race through their individual and collective pursuit of educating the African-American masses about their past, present, and future. Equally as important, in the black press editorials urged readers to be mindful of the achievements of the race in science, literature, politics, and education, and not to put too much weight on the success of its black sports champions.

Nonetheless, African Americans—based on their collective experiences in the South—continued to develop and adopt various dynamic methods to resist the racist discourse and practices woven into American society and created to limit their ability to achieve first-class citizenship. These forms of resistance ranged from overt rebellions aimed at securing immediate freedom from oppression to covert formulations designed to sustain the hope for deliverance held onto since slavery. Although Caponi-Tabery acknowledges the African influence...


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