Sport And The Talented Tenth


W.E.B. DuBois called for a Negro elite, the "talented tenth" of the African American population to become the leaders of the race. This is the story of a portion of that intelligentsia, true Renaissance men whose talents extended beyond scholarship to the fields of sport and athletic competition. They were scholar-athletes who found themselves immersed in a virtually all-white privileged and patrician world of classical studies and old world attitudes. For the most part, they achieved far beyond the expectations ...
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W.E.B. DuBois called for a Negro elite, the "talented tenth" of the African American population to become the leaders of the race. This is the story of a portion of that intelligentsia, true Renaissance men whose talents extended beyond scholarship to the fields of sport and athletic competition. They were scholar-athletes who found themselves immersed in a virtually all-white privileged and patrician world of classical studies and old world attitudes. For the most part, they achieved far beyond the expectations of a prejudiced world. They became champions, All-Americans and Olympians; later, doctors, lawyers, teachers, clergy, businessmen and political leaders. DuBois was seeking such men, although he did not likely consider athletic participation as a part of the equation. Today we recognize the contributions made by such athletes as Jesse Owens, Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali to the ascension of the African American. The men in these pages, epitomized by the likes of William Henry Lewis, Fritz Pollard and Paul Robeson, helped pave the way for those great athletes, at the same time demonstrating that the scholar athlete came from diverse social, economic, ethnic and racial backgrounds.

Sport and the Talented Tenth is the first book to focus entirely on early African American athletes in predominantly white colleges and universities. Bob Wells has discovered 145 black men who, between 1879 and 1920, performed in athletics at 39 colleges in the New England states, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Their athletic experiences included involvement in 13 sports and are detailed game-by-game, meet-by-meet.

Attention is paid to the problems they faced - the prejudice, discrimination and outright racism of classmates, teammates, opposing athletes, and the unwritten social policies of opposing administrations. An examination of their family backgrounds, athletic achievements, wartime service and post -graduate careers is discussed in a concluding synthesis.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781440175510
  • Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 1/18/2010
  • Pages: 648
  • Product dimensions: 7.50 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

BOB WELLS is emeritus professor of physical education at Frostburg State University in Maryland, where he taught for 30 years. An alumnus of the University of Rhode Island, he earned his graduate degrees at Fitchburg State College and Indiana University. Additional work at the University of Maryland in the areas of sport history and sociology led to a 25-year study of African American athletes, the development of undergraduate/ graduate coursework in the subject at Frostburg State and research which culminated in this book.

A highly-successful baseball coach at Frostburg, his childhood admiration of Jackie Robinson was the probable genesis of his interest in African American athletics. He is a member of the athletic Hall of Fame at URI and at FSU, where baseball games are played on Bob Wells Field.

Now retired, he makes his home in his native Rhode Island, near the campus of his almamater. His summers are spent hiking the mountains of northern New England and New York.

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Read an Excerpt


African American Athletes at the Colleges and Universities of the Northeast, 1879-1920
By Robert E. Wells

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2010 Robert E. Wells
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4401-7551-0

Chapter One

Who Came First? Baseball Leads the Way

Baseball has long been called America's national pastime, a sobriquet which has its merits, if only in a historical sense. Certainly, the game was just that in the latter third of the nineteenth century. Deriving from the English children's game of rounders, sophisticated by men like Alexander Cartwright, spread by the Civil War and the railroad, baseball in the late 1800s was played in the cities and the countryside, by child and adult, for fun or profit. Both the upper and lower classes played, but while the rich and privileged had sailing, yachting and riding to the hunt as other diversions, the poor, largely immigrant class had only baseball.

It therefore is appropriate that baseball would be the first college sport to accept the lowest of the nation's classes-the African American. On the community and professional levels, box scores were dominated by Irish and Germanic names, reflecting the two largest immigrant populations. By the 1870s and 1880s, these same names would be found in college lineups. Other ethnic surnames representing the south and east of Europe would eventually appear as well, but before 1900, Anglo-Saxon names generally ruled the baseball diamond. Some of these names-Jackson, Johnson, Brown, Smith-belonged to black men.

Those African Americans who played with white men were few. From the Civil War on, they had their own teams and leagues, but in the 1870s a few very talented and even more courageous of these men began to appear on semi-professional and professional (though minor league) white teams. Their embattled careers are another story. Our story is about college athletes, but our approach must touch on early professional baseball.

Until very recently, baseball historians were convinced that the first African American to play major league baseball was Moses Fleetwood Walker. In 1884, Walker played for the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association.

There were three major leagues that year: the National League, the American Association and, for that season only, the Union Association. Walker had joined the Blue Stockings the previous year when the team was a member of the minor Northwest League. When the team moved up to the American Association, Walker went with them.

In mid-season, Walker's younger brother Welday Walker signed on with Toledo, becoming, it was thought, the second black player in the major leagues. The Blue Stockings, plagued with injuries, had a sudden need for an outfielder. Probably on "Fleet's" recommendation, Welday was added to the roster. His season was short. After five appearances, he was released.

But Fleet Walker could play. He was a catcher and part-time outfielder who could run and throw. Despite encountering intense racism at various stops on the road, he made it through seven years in the professional white leagues, mostly in what would now be considered triple-A level.

When it was discovered that Walker preceded Jackie Robinson by fifty-three years, historians dug deeper into his life. He was the son of an Ohio physician, bred and raised for a higher education. He entered the preparatory department of Oberlin College in 1877, became a freshman the following year, and studied the classical and scientific curricula of the times for three years.

In the fall of 1880, as Fleet began his junior year, Welday enrolled in the preparatory school. The following spring found them teammates on Oberlin's first intercollegiate baseball team. The team won all three of its games, the last one over Michigan. Impressed, the story goes, Michigan enticed Fleet to the Ann Arbor university's law school. Welday followed, entering Michigan's freshman class. Fleet played two more years of college baseball before signing with Toledo. Neither brother ever received a college degree. After Fleet was effectively forced out of professional ball years later, he worked as a mail clerk in Syracuse. While there he was acquitted of a murder charge when an all-white jury ruled that he had acted in self-defense. He returned to his native Ohio, became an inventor, newspaper owner, journalist, and author. Both he and Welday, his partner in business, became militant in their views on race relations. Embittered by their experiences in and out of baseball, they were advocates of the "back to Africa" movement, although neither ever made the move. Fleet died in 1924, Welday in 1937.

It is easy to overlook in all of that the significance of the Walkers' play at Oberlin in 1881. A few of the black colleges had already started intercollegiate athletics by this time, so it is logical that the first college athletes of African heritage came years before. But there remains a question seemingly ignored by sport historians: who was the first African American to play on a team at a "white" college? Was it the Walker brothers at Oberlin in 1881? Or did someone precede them?

Without a doubt, the Walkers were not the first. At least two men preceded them. They too were baseball players: Whitefield McKinlay and William E. White.

Whitefield McKinlay played on the varsity baseball team at Iowa College-now Grinnell College-in the spring of 1880, one year before the Walkers at Oberlin.

McKinlay's route to Iowa was rather remarkable. He was born in the 1850s to one of the wealthiest black families in Charleston, South Carolina. After studying at the Avery Institute, he entered the University of South Carolina, a feat in itself, made possible only by Reconstruction policy. In 1874, the University expelled him as Reconstruction reforms began to crumble.

McKinlay received a West Point appointment, one of the dozen African Americans to do so between 1870 and 1900. Once more he was asked to leave school, this time because of "racial incidents." He found his way to Iowa College, apparently through the suggestion or encouragement of a West Point friend. He enrolled as a sophomore in the 1879-80 academic year. According to Grinnell records, it was his only year of attendance.

The 1910 Grinnell Review's "History of Baseball" mentions his name only in passing as a member of the team sometime between the years of 1878 and 1882. With but one year of attendance at the college, he could only have played in the spring of 1880.

McKinlay was enrolled in the Classical Studies program, but because he failed analytical geometry, he left school. He ended up in Washington, D.C., an entrepreneur who became active in the anti-segregationist movement. As a follower of Booker T. Washington, the only African American leader acceptable to the government and white establishment, he was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt to a housing commission in the District of Columbia. Along with Washington, McKinlay was one of the first black persons invited to dine at the White House. The wife of Frederick Douglass requested that he be one of the trustees of her husband's estate. According to one of his descendents, he virtually "ran" his District neighborhood of Anacostia. He died in 1942.

McKinlay's play in 1880 preceded that of Oberlin College's Walker brothers by a year. Unless an earlier instance is discovered, he must be considered the first black athlete at a predominantly white college west or south of Pennsylvania. Until just a few years ago, he would have been recognized as the first in the country. But in 2003, history uncovered William White.

White was found to have played one game for the National League's Providence Grays in 1879, five years before the Walkers joined the Toledo Blue Stockings in the big leagues. Jackie Robinson suddenly was the fourth black man to play in the majors.

But more pertinent to our interest, White's game with the Grays had come just a few days after he had completed the first of two seasons at first base for Brown University. That placed him a year ahead of McKinlay as the first known black college athlete at a "white" college in the United States.

Chapter Two

The Eastern Pioneers

William White - Baseball at Brown

Bob Terrell - Baseball at Harvard Champion Waring - Track at Dartmouth

When they took the field against the visiting Cleveland Blues on Thursday, June 19, 1879, the Providence Grays held second place in the National League. Their record was 14-8, a full five games behind the 19-3 Chicago White Stockings. The Grays' hopes for overtaking Chicago were dealt a blow that afternoon. Although Providence beat Cleveland, 8-1, "Old Reliable" Joe Start, their first baseman and leadoff man, broke his finger. He was likely to miss three to four weeks, reported the Providence Daily Journal.

On Saturday the Grays and the Blues met again at Providence's Messer Street Park. The Journal that morning informed the public that a "University" player named White would be filling in for Start.

The Grays won again, 5-3. White, playing first base and batting ninth in the order, had a nice big-league debut: a single in four at-bats, a run scored, and a stolen base. His run came in the fifth inning, when he reached on a fielder's choice, stole second, and came home on a double.

The Journal was more impressed with his defense.

White, first baseman of the University Nine, occupied that position for Providence, and it is needless to state that he was as expert and effective as ever, catching some widely thrown balls with great ease. He was apparently cool and collected throughout; and will be a valuable substitute for the unfortunate Start. His college friends were present in large numbers and cheered him with frequent Brunonian cries.

The rival Providence Morning Star also commented on the lusty support White received from his friends. In its account, the Star informed the readers that White's hit came in the ninth inning and gave him credit for two stolen bases. The modern Baseball Encyclopedia, however, agrees with the Journal's report-one hit, four at-bats and a run scored-but leaves blank the space beneath stolen bases.

According to the last sentence in the Journal write-up, White had been "engaged to cover first" in the upcoming series with Boston. As it turned out, William White would not play again for the Grays or any other major-league team. His one day in the big leagues quickly became an insignificant episode in the vast pages of baseball history, until about 125 years later.

The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) does just what its title suggests. Among the most important of its goals is the completion of biographical data on everyone who ever played in the major leagues. Slightly over sixteen thousand men have done so. Only 344 biographies, including William White's, were incomplete.

When SABR researchers reached the entry for "Bill White" in the Baseball Encyclopedia, they found only that William Edward White was born in Milner, Georgia and was deceased. Led by researcher Peter Morris, a search for White's background began. The results were startling: William White, that one-game first baseman in 1879, was almost certainly a black man. Five years before Fleetwood Walker in Toledo, sixty-eight years before Jackie Robinson in Brooklyn, White was likely the first African American to play major-league baseball. Less certainly, but still probably, he was the first black athlete at a predominantly white college in the Northeast, if not the entire country.

William Edward White was born in the small town of Milner, Georgia in 1860. His father was a white farmer, his mother a mulatto slave.

Andrew Jackson White was no ordinary farmer. The 1860 census indicates that he owned seventy slaves and employed a live-in overseer. He organized a local unit of soldiers for the Confederacy and served in the Civil War as an infantry captain. If his wealth and his service to the South were not sufficient to make him Milner's leading citizen, his postwar position as president of the Macon and Western Railroad clinched the deal.

Only such prominence and power could have made his relationship with the mulatto Hannah White tolerable, if not welcome, to the town and county folk. "A. J." White never married, but he and Hannah raised a family of three children, the eldest of whom was William.

A local historian believes that White purchased Hannah at a Washington, D.C. slave market. Census records indicate that she was born in that city in 1845. A. J. did not purchase Hannah's mother, Sarah, but sometime later, perhaps following Emancipation, she moved to Georgia and joined the White household.

The 1870 census reported six people living at the White address: A. J., Hannah ("mulatto" and "domestic servant"), Sarah ("black domestic servant"), and "mulatto" children William, nine, Norah, six, and Adellet, three.

A. J. had something else going for him in rural Georgia. He was a fervent Baptist who had built the Milner Baptist Church, which also may explain why young William and both his sisters ended up in Providence, Rhode Island.

A. J. White surely knew that his one-quarter black children faced a difficult time in Georgia. Even with the inheritance of his financial assets, they would not be accepted in either the social or business world of the deep South. They might succeed elsewhere, but only if sufficiently educated. That meant going north.

Brown University was at that time affiliated with the Baptist church. It also had accepted and graduated a significant number of black students. A. J. probably had Brown in mind for William, because in 1874, when the boy was fourteen and his sister Norah (or "Anna Nora") eleven, he enrolled them at the Friends Boarding School in Providence. The Friends School, abutting Brown's campus, would eventually become the Moses Brown School, a direct preparatory feeder to the university. Moses Brown School records indicated that a few years later, sister Sarah Adelaide (the "Adellet" of the Census) White would also enroll. The private school cost A. J. $150 a year per child.

Although this was a rather large amount of money in the Reconstruction South, A. J. White could afford it. In 1877 he made out his will, leaving his "trusty servant Hannah White" $3,000 and all his property, a remarkable act in itself. Included in the will was the charge to the executors for the education and comfortable support of his children: "I desire the two Eldest now at school in the North, to complete the course so as to become proficient in all the branches taught in that school, and I desire the youngest to be given similar advantages."

William, or "Eddie," as he had been called around Milner, would graduate from the Friends Boarding School in the spring of 1879. But first he would make history.

It was acceptable and sometimes necessary for a college team to use players from an affiliated high school. Many colleges had preparatory departments on campus, particularly common at black colleges and state normal schools. Others were associated with a nearby private preparatory school. In 1879, Friends' prepster William White played on Brown University's varsity baseball team. His personal baseball season, however, began three days ahead of Brown's.

On Thursday, April 9, the Journal announced that the hometown Grays would play a practice game that afternoon. The opponent would be a local "picked nine," some of whom were from the "University." In 1879 the "University" could only have been Brown, and, in all likelihood, the "picking" was done by the Grays' officials.

The National Leaguers had little trouble with the locals, winning 17-4. The next day's Journal reported that "White and Winslow of the University team" had played for the picked nine, White at second base and Winslow as catcher. White, batting leadoff, had a single in four at-bats, scored a run, and struck out once. Afield he made an error but had seven unblemished chances as well.

Three days later, the Grays tuned up further for their National League season by defeating the Brown varsity, 9-3. A Journal writer thought that "White, Ladd, Winslow and Richmond carried off the fielding honors for Brown." Whatever fielding gems White managed were displayed at first base, where all ten of his chances were putouts. He also did well offensively. Hitting third, he had two singles in four at-bats with a run scored.

The teams met three more times before the end of the month. The first game was called by rain in the fourth inning, while the big leaguers romped to easy wins in the others. White had an RBI single in the shortened game, sat out the second and hit a triple in the third. In that final game he handled 16 chances with one error, evoking from the Journal another comment on his good defense.

Including the "picked nine" game, the Grays had now played against White four times, probably unaware that he was making an impression on them.


Excerpted from SPORT AND THE TALENTED TENTH by Robert E. Wells Copyright © 2010 by Robert E. Wells . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


1 Who Came First? - Baseball Leads the Way....................3
2 The Eastern Pioneers....................6
3 For Fair Amherst....................24
4 The First All-American....................41
5 The First All-American....................51
6 The Down East Virginians....................57
7 French Connections....................64
8 "Tomorrow a Nigger"....................67
9 More Track and Football, 1893-1900....................73
10 The Gregory Brothers and Other Baseball....................78
11 Matt Bullock and Friends....................95
12 Those Footballing Aggies....................107
13 The Special Case of James Johnson at Carlisle and Other Football....................114
14 The Shortstop....................127
15 The Wesleyan Affair and Other Baseball, 1901-1910....................139
16 The Green Mountain Boys....................153
17 Hitting the Boards....................167
18 Olympic Gold and Tragedy....................176
19 A Dream Deferred....................185
20 Four For Harvard....................192
21 John Pinkett and Associates....................201
22 Gridiron Duos....................214
23 Other Football and Track, 1906-1910....................223
24 Quaker Discrimination?....................239
25 The YMCA Whirlwind....................245
26 The "Springfield Bullet"....................251
27 A Young Man's Fancy....................256
28 Hammering and Hurdling for Harvard....................264
29 The Running Grangers....................274
30 Sprinting at Syracuse....................286
31 Field and Stream....................291
32 On the Line at Tufts....................298
33 More New England Football, 1911-1915....................302
34 Other Track and Cross-Country, 1911-1915....................311
35 The Incomparable Fritz....................323
36 American Giant....................346
37 Gridiron Grit at Dartmouth....................364
38 In Pollard's Footsteps....................375
39 "Pruner"....................388
40 The Brothers Martin and Football Mates....................392
41 Eclectic Springfield Revisited....................405
42 Other Football, 1915-1920....................411
43 Running His Legs Off for Penn....................429
44 Other Trackmen at Penn....................442
45 The Burwell Boys - Track....................454
46 "Jumping Beyond All the World"....................461
47 The M Street Scholars at Amherst....................476
48 Nittany Flier....................488
49 More Track and Cross-Country, 1915-1920....................494
50 Road to Cooperstown....................504
51 Hoop and Scoop....................511
52 Champion, War Hero, Poet....................521
53 The Ski Jumper....................528
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