The Strange Career of the Black Athlete
African Americans and Sports
by Russell T. Wigginton
June 2006, 144pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-0-275-98223-2
$75, £58, 66€, A103
eBook Available: 978-0-313-08622-9
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

Shows how sports have at times challenged racial mores yet at other times reinforced the status quo in this revealing historical group portrait of black athletes.

Few realize that some sports were integrated, or even dominated by blacks, before becoming dominated by whites, for example, horse racing, golf, hockey, and tennis. This book provides a lens through which to view the historical context and specific circumstances of African Americans’ presence in various sports. The author asks why sport has at times challenged the status quo with regard to race and civil rights, and at other times reinforced it. To that end, he analyzes various sports and asks why and when has each sport responded differently.

Wigginton asks how did blacks break the color barrier? Were they able to maintain representation in the particular sport? And did the entrance of blacks in these sports change the public’s perception of the sport? The answers to these questions shed light on why America remains preoccupied with sports, race, and the seemingly integral relationship between the two.


"Wigginton presents a brief exploration of the sometimes-tumultuous rise of the black athlete in the US, especially as the 20th century developed. Individual chapters explore the role of black athletes in so-called white sports; the tendency, especially among whites, to classify black athletes as either heroes or villains; the role of black athletes in the civil rights era and beyond; and the role of African American women in sports. He most frequently takes a biographical approach, allowing the experiences of various figures to exemplify particular issues and experiences. This approach serves him well and allows him to place African American athletes--both prominent and less-known but still important--within a larger historical context in imaginative ways....[r]eadable, insightful, and a welcome addition to the literature on race and sports. Recommended. All readers; all levels."—Choice, July 1, 2007

"[T]he strange career of the black athlete is no stranger than the African American experience in general. There is racism; there are African Americans, like Joe Louis, who have been accepted by the white majority at least in part because their demeanor was nonthreatening; and there are those, like Jack Johnson, who have been rejected because they rocked the racial boat a bit too much. Wigginton's short book concentrates on two or three African American athletes from three different eras spanning the years 1892 to the present. He also includes chapters devoted to African American participation in traditionally white sports (e.g., hockey, golf, tennis) and African American women athletes....[a] thoughtful study and should be a valuable purchase for large public and academic libraries."—Library Journal, October 15, 2006

"Wigginton considers the history of African Americans in sports, focusing on those that have not sustained integration attempts: horse racing, golf, hockey, and tennis; how black athletes have been categorized as heroes or villains, specifically William Henry Lewis, Paul Robeson, and Jack Johnson; athletes and their achievements during the civil rights movement; and African American women in sports."—Reference & Research Book News, November 1, 2006

"The Strange Career of the Black Athlete is an important contribution to our continuous struggle to understand and reconcile our nation's racial past. Wigginton highlights how many African American athletes jeopardized their promising careers and joined up with countless others who dared to fight for social, political, and economic freedom. Scholars, students, and engaged citizens interested in human rights and justice issues will appreciate this book."—Beverly Robertson, President, National Civil Rights Museum

"Looking through the lens of sports, The Strange Career of the Black Athlete captures the historical influence of race in America. Wigginton carefully explains how the particular era, sport, and individual personalities have influenced our perceptions of, and reactions to, African American athletes. His insightful analyses is a valuable addition to the literature that builds on renowned scholar C. Vann Woodward's seminal work on race relations written more than fifty years ago."—Vernon Burton, Professor of History and Sociology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, author of In My Father's House Are Many Mansions: Family and Community in Edgefield, South Carolina
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