- Separate Games: African American Sport Behind the Walls of Segregationed. by David K. Wiggins and Ryan A. Swanson
Separate Games: African American Sport Behind the Walls of Segregationtells the stories of the teams, events, and organizations that proved "integral to the development of a black national sporting culture" (p. xvi). The essays range from journalistic accounts of games and seasons to more analytical assessments of their subjects' broader societal impact. Whether tangentially, directly, or implicitly, the contributors address the economic importance of African American sport. While many track the decline of black teams and institutions in the wake of integration, they also demonstrate, with varying degrees of success, how African American sports contributed to off-the-field civil rights gains.
The opening chapter on the Cuban Giants baseball team reads at times like a narrative box score, but its coverage of the numerous teams who adopted the Giants name and mascot testifies to the club's enduring cultural and economic resonance. Susan J. Rayl's account of the Harlem Rens basketball team catalogs wins and losses with a few nods to the squad's off-court standing and experiences. The Rens made ends meet during the Depression by barnstorming in different regions, including the American South. Rens player John Isaacs remembered navigating Jim Crow signs and expectations and having "to get used to the 'N' word" on these trips (p. 27). One newspaper reported minimal game-time hostility, prompting the conclusion that such contests "served as a catalyst for the integration of spectators, and eventually of teams" (p. 28). Carroll Van West's analysis of the role that the Tennessee State University [End Page 221]Tigerbelles played during the Cold War complements recent works on racialized concepts of beauty as well as older studies on the era's transformation of everyday men and women into international activists. He also stresses the personal significance of the Tigerbelles' global tours, quoting Mississippian Willye B. White, who credited such trips for introducing her to a world apart from "'cross burning and lynchings'" (p. 65).
Studies of the National Interscholastic Basketball Tournament, the Turkey Day Football Classic between Tuskegee Institute and Alabama State College, the Gold and Glory Sweepstakes auto race, and the East West Classic, the Negro National League's all-star game, highlight the civic celebrations that accompanied these contests. Showcasing the power, vibrancy, and talents of African American institutions and individuals, these events "served as a staging ground for politics, culture, and class in the communities they represented" (p. 93). The Turkey Day Classic did more than pit two schools against each other; it represented a clash between two different schools of thought regarding defining and achieving social equality. The game drew integrated crowds, but historian Thomas Aiello does not read too much into this fact. Indeed, as challenges to southern segregation mounted, the threat of white violence led to the cancellation of the 1960 Turkey Day Parade. Aiello reminds readers that while "sports could serve as a binding agent and a refuge from the race antagonism swirling around them, that antagonism could also seep into the function of those sports, could make them a theater for all of the broader problems in society at large" (p. 105).
Todd Gould's account of the Gold and Glory Sweepstakes centers on driver and mechanic Charlie Wiggins, who rose to the top of his profession, joining other racers who ran a "dusty gauntlet, traveling from small town to small town, attempting to steer clear of large ruts, bumps, and unfriendly whites along their way cross country" (p. 120). Wiggins built extraordinary cars and engines, earning a stellar reputation among black and white drivers. He insisted on running qualifying laps in the cars he worked on, even when it violated segregation laws and customs. In Kentucky, this led to his on-track arrest for speeding, to protect him from a mob. While most of the essays rely on...