Sports

Earl Lloyd

Earl Lloyd

Jackie Robinson, the man who broke Major League Baseball’s color line, ranks as a national icon. Filmmaker Ken Burns go so far as to compare Robinson to Thomas Jefferson.  Earl Lloyd, the first African-American to play in the National Basketball Association, ranks as a largely overlooked pioneer.

Lloyd started at power forward – with an emphasis on power – for the 1954-55 NBA champion Syracuse Nationals, who moved to Philadelphia in 1963 to become the 76ers. Lloyd now lives in a retirement community in Crossville, Tenn. He’s a major, if obscure, figure in NBA history.

He doesn’t mind his low profile. Lloyd has no interest in standing beside Robinson in the nation’s memory. Standing there would only make him nervous.  Continue reading

Florence ‘Flo Jo’ Joyner-Kersey

At the 1988 Olympic trials, while outfitted in a one-legged purple track suit and sporting four inch fingernails, she set a world record in the 100 meters, running it at 10.49 seconds, knocking more than a quarter of a second off her best-ever time despite not even being one of the country’s best in the event a year earlier.

Flo Jo at the Seoul Olympic Games in 1988

Flo Jo at the Seoul Olympic Games in 1988

Florence Delorez Griffith grew up in a housing project in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles as the seventh of eleven children. From an early age, Griffith enjoyed competition and sought attention. She held handstand competitions, rode around on a unicycle, designed unique clothes for her Barbie doll, wore strange hairdos and owned a trained pet rat. And she was fast. Florence’s father often told a story about taking the kids to the nearby Mojave Desert when she was five and challenging them to chase jackrabbits. Florence caught one. “Jackrabbit” became her nickname.

By age 7, she was competing in track. In high school, she set records in sprints and the long jump. Following graduation, she competed at Cal State Northridge under the legendary sprint coach Bob Kersee and helped them win the national championship in 1978.  Continue reading

William Eldon ‘Willie’ O’Ree

William Eldon ‘Willie’ O’Ree

While Willie O’Ree career was short, it was historic. Willie became the first black player in NHL history on January 18, 1958, when he debuted with the Bruins in a 3-0 win over Montreal in the Forum. Willie was a skater, but only managed 45 games in the NHL, although he played professional hockey until 1971, mostly in San Deigo, California, where upon his retirement he became director of Parks with the City of San Deigo.

Another strike against Willie was an accident playing hockey as a junior in Kingston had left him blind in one eye. Willie played professionally in the Quebec Senior League, with another, Fredericton native, Manny McIntrye. Manny along with brothers Herb and Ossie Carnegie of Toronto, formed what is believed to be the only All-Black line in Professional hockey.

Josh Gibson

Josh Gibson

Elected to Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.

Among the biggest draws in the Negro Leagues, popular Josh Gibson is generally considered one of the most prodigious power hitters in the history of professional baseball. Josh led the Negro National League in home runs for 10 consecutive years; credited with 75 home runs in 1931.

Belting home runs of more than 500 feet was not unusual for Gibson. One homer in Monessen, Pa., reportedly was measured at 575 feet. The Sporting News of June 3, 1967 credits Gibson with a home run in a Negro League game at Yankee Stadium that struck two feet from the top of the wall circling the center field bleachers, about 580 feet from home plate.

Although it has never been conclusively proven, Chicago American Giants infielder Jack Marshall said Gibson slugged one over the third deck next to the left field bullpen in 1934 for the only fair ball hit out of the House That Ruth Built.  Continue reading

Wilma Rudolph

Wilma Rudolph `

Wilma Rudolph

1940-1994 Born in St. Bethlehem, Tennessee, Wilma Rudolph was the first female American runner to win three gold medals in the Olympic Games. She earned the title of “World’s Fastest Woman” by winning the 100-meter dash and the 200-meter dash and anchoring the 400-meter relay at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.

These achievements would be considered remarkable by any standard, but in light of the fact that as a child Rudolph suffered an attack of polio and scarlet fever that left her unable to walk without braces or orthopedic shoes until age twelve, they are amazing. Rudolph’s phenomenal accomplishments helped remove barriers to women’s participation in track and field events. Continue reading

Upcoming Black History Posts
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  • Thomas Andrew Dorsey
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