“Before Jackie Robinson: The Transcendent Role of Black Sporting Pioneers” by Gerald R. Gems
Horse Racing, Football (American), track and field, golf, baseball, race, history, tennis, basketball
February 1, 2017
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
Jackie Robinson is the most celebrated athlete in American sports when one discusses the integration of African-American athletes into the mainstream of sports. However, there were many individuals who helped change the course and thinking of the black athlete in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, decades before Robinson.
Their stories and the hardships they endured are captured in this engrossing book by Gerald R. Gems. The stories are as varied as the sports that these people played as there were black pioneers in sports such as horse racing (Isaac Murphy), golf (John Shippen Jr.) and airplane flying (Bessie Coleman) as well as the more “traditional” sports such as baseball (Moses “Fleetwood” Walker) and football (Sam Ransom). The people are not limited to the playing field as others such as Rube Foster and Bob Douglas.
What sets this book apart from the pack is the meticulous research that Gems does to not only obtain information but to give proper credit to an athlete who might otherwise be never recognized for his or her accomplishment. The story of Isadore Channels and her success in tennis and basketball is one such example of this detail to attention. Gems notes that at the beginning of the chapter about Channels that the information was difficult to obtain and that there may gaps in the information. While it was proper for him to note that tidbit, just the idea that this woman whose accomplishments have been long neglected finally gets some recognition is commendable.
That is what makes this book an outstanding account of these people – interesting stories, information that is not well-known and proper credit for what these athletes contributed to both sports and society. This book should be read by any reader interested in the integration of sports, no matter which sport he or she follows.
I wish to thank University of Nebraska Press for providing an advance review copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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