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Sunday, 7 October 2012

Black Sportsmen

The cyclist Marshall Taylor was the first widely recognised black American athlete. He won national championships at the height of cycling's popularity from 1899 to 1904 overcoming racial discrimination.

Galveston “Jack” Johnson (below) became the first black world heavyweight boxing champion on December 26, 1908 when he beat Tommy Burns over 14 rounds in Sydney, Australia. Two years later, on July 4, 1910, Jack Johnson knocked out white boxer Jim Jeffries in a heavyweight boxing match, sparking race riots across the United States.

Lucy Slowe became the first black woman tennis champion in the US when she won the women's singles title at a tournament in Baltimore in 1920.

The New York Renaissance was the first all-black professional basketball team. Established February 13, 1923, the Rens won 88 consecutive games, a mark that has never been matched by a professional basketball team.

The New York Renaissance basketball team was founded by Robert L. "Bob" Douglas (November 4, 1882 – July 16, 1979). Nicknamed the "Father of Black Professional Basketball", Douglas owned and coached the Rens from 1923 to 1949, guiding them to a 2,318-381 record. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor on February 5, 1972, the first African American to be enshrined.

At the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Hitler publicly acclaimed the first two winners but then snubbed the black American Jesse Owens who won four gold medals. "The Americans ought to be ashamed of themselves, for letting their medals be won by Negroes," he said.

When Jesse Owens won the 200-meter dash at the Berlin Olympics, his teammate, Mack Robinson, finished second. Mack’s little brother, Jackie, later would break the color barrier in major-league baseball when he played for the Montreal Royals, the AAA affiliate of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. He was the first black player in a major-league baseball game since brothers Moses and Welday Walker played for Toledo in 1884.

Jackie Robinson of the Kansas City Monarchs signed a contract for the Brooklyn Dodgers on October 30, 1945 to break the baseball color barrier.  He made his major league debut on April 15, 1947,  at the relatively advanced age of 28 at Ebbets Field before a crowd of 26,623 spectators, more than 14,000 of whom were black. Although Robinson failed to get a base hit, he walked and scored a run in the Dodgers' 5–3 victory.  He had a successful season for the Dodgers and was the recipient of the inaugural MLB Rookie of the Year Award. 

Robinson with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954

Robinson had an exceptional 10-year baseball career. He was an All-Star for six consecutive seasons from 1949 through 1954, and won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1949—the first black player so honored. 

Emmett Ashford (1914-80) became the first African-American umpire in organized baseball, when on February 20, 1952, he was authorized to be a substitute umpire in the Southwestern International League. 

Ashford became major league's first black umpire in 1966. He gained a reputation for his flamboyant calling of balls and strikes.

Emmanuel Ifeajuna became the first black African to win at a major international sports competition when he won the high jump at the 1954 British Empire and Common­wealth Games.

When Althea Gibson won the Wimbledon championships on July 6, 1957, she became the first black athlete to do so.

Althea Gibson, World Telegram & Sun photo by Fred Palumbo.

Afro-Canadian Willie O'Ree was the very first black player in the NHL. Signed by Boston Bruins he made his NHL debut with the Bruins on January 18, 1958, against the Montreal Canadiens. 

O'Ree appeared in two games that year playing as a winger, and came back in 1961 to play 43 games, scoring 4 goals and 10 assists. O'Ree is referred to as the "Jackie Robinson of ice hockey" due to breaking the black color barrier in the sport.

Ethiopian marathon runner Abebe Bikila became on September 10, 1960 the first sub-Saharan African to win an Olympic gold medal. 

Abebe decided to run the Rome marathon without shoes, the way he'd trained for the race, so he won in bare feet.

Bikila near the finish line at the 1960 Olympics

Basketball player Bill Russell served a three-season (1966–69) stint as player-coach for the Boston Celtics, becoming the first African American NBA coach.

Emmett Ashford (1914-80) became major league's first black umpire in 1966. He gained a reputation for his flamboyant calling of balls and strikes.

Arthur Ashe was the first black player to win the US national singles and open championships in 1968. While actively protesting apartheid in South Africa, he was granted a visa in 1973 to become the first black professional to play in that country.

 Arthur Ashe at the 1975 World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam. By Bogaerts, Rob /Wikipedia Commons

On July 5, 1975, Arthur Ashe became the first black man to win Wimbledon, beating defending champion Jimmy Connors three sets to one.

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