Preserving History & Legacies
Black Voices: How Black Media Helped Change the Game
For African Americans, before there was social media and before radio and television, the only source of sports information was the black newspaper. In most cases, these publications started out as a personal dream that simple two-cent weekly prints in local neighborhoods. They began as commentaries on social issues and points of interest and quickly became leading crusaders to its readers.
As time went by, the pioneers of the “Black press” begin to emerge and build their own following among the increasing Negro readerships. Notably:
John H. Murphy, Sr., who was born into slavery and served in the Civil War in the United States Colored Troops, reaching the rank of sergeant (NCO) is credited as the founder of the Baltimore Afro American newspaper in 1892. Other publications began to surface in major cities and towns around the country, such as the Cleveland Call & Post in 1902.
Robert Sengstacke Abbott (1870–1940) was a renowned publisher who built the first black newspaper empire beginning with The Chicago
Defender in 1905. Other notable publications such as the Richmond Planet (John Mitchell, Jr., 1863–1929), The Philadelphia Tribune, Norfolk Journal & Guide, The New York Amsterdam News, and the Pittsburgh Courier became the flagships of Black media, heralding the Black athletes and colleges.
John Mitchell, Jr. (1863–1929), founded the Richmond Planet and was the first president of the National Afro-American Press Association.
As Black athletes began to emerge, the demand for more exposure for readers who followed sports provided a dramatic increase in readership since they were exempted from the mainstream press.
The newspapers devoted a whole new section to sportswriters who were passionate about the coverage they provided. From this new corps came prominent figures like:
Sam Lacy – The Chicago Defender, the Afro-American
John Wendell Smith- The Pittsburgh Courier, Chicago Defender
See First Black newspapers
John Sengstacke, Founder/Publisher, The Chicago Defender
Heading Photos: (l) Wendell Smith; (C) Staff of the Pittsburgh Courier; (r) Sam Lacy
Tom Alston: A&T Baseball Legend
Tom Alston was born on January 31, 1926 in Greensboro, North Carolina. He became an outstanding first baseman while playing his college ball on the North Carolina A&T Aggies varsity team.
After graduation, Alston was signed by the San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League and played in 180 games in 1953 before the Saint Louis Cardinals traded for him after a mandate by the owner August Busch to sign a black player after Jackie Robinson (UCLA) and Larry Doby (VA Union) broke through the color barrier in Major League Baseball.
He made his Major League debut on April 13, 1954 at Sportsman’s Park and became the first black player in Saint Louis Cardinals history. He played in 66 games during his rookie season,
batting .246 with 4 home runs and 34 runs batted in. After that, he got into 25 more games over the course of the next three seasons and spent most of his majorleague career splitting time between the majors and the Class AAA Omaha Cardinals, where he had a .306 batting average and 21 home runs in 1956. In his career, he played in 91 games and a .244 batting average (66-for-271), 4 home runs, 36 RBI, 30 runs scored, and an on-base percentage of .311. In his 81 appearances at first base, his fielding percentage of .987 (680 – 689 chances) was just slightly under the league average during his era.
Alston’s career was cut short by medical issues which forced his hospitalization after his playing career was over. He died on December 30, 1993.
A Celebration of Black College History in Sports
If you are a avid sports buff, you will find the Black College Sports History & Legends is an ongoing archive of history that chronicles the famous and not so famous contributors who provided fans with memorable moments that are etched in time.
One such moment occurred in the fall of 1978 in Wichita Falls, Texas in front of a small crowd of 1,300 fans who witnessed a milestone when the Rattlers of Florida A&M, ranked no. 3 in the newly formed NCAA Division 1-AA, take on the no. 4 Minutemen of Massachusetts in the inaugural Pioneer Bowl. They held on to make history with a 35-28 victory to win the first NCAA Div. 1-AAA national title.
The Rattlers had a long history of dominance in the Black college football world, beginning with legendary coaches like Bill Bell and his predecessor Hall of Famer Alonza “Jake” Gaither (1945-69). They hosted the Black college classic- the Orange Blossom Classic from 1933-78, holding a record of 26–19–1 against the top Black college teams.
The Rattlers dynasty ended when Gaither retired but was revived by a newcomer who had the swag and ability to recruit like Gaither.
But, the game that shocked the world occurred in that 1978 season on their way to the title. See the “Game That Shocked College Football”
THIS MONTH IN HISTORY
1876 PRAIRIE VIEW A&M UNIVERSITY became the first state supported Black College in the State of Texas. In 1945, the name of the institution was changed from Prairie View Normal and Industrial College to Prairie View University. The school participates in the Southwestern Athletic Conference and NCAA Div. I (FCS in football). Notables: Zelmo Beaty, (basketball), Cecil Cooper (baseball), Otis Taylor (football).
1940 CLEVE ABBOTT became the first African American member of USA Track and Field Board. He founded the track and field at Tuskegee Institute as well as the tennis program. He mentored Olympic stars Alice Coachman and Mildred McDaniels.
1971 First Televised Black College Football Game aired on ABC-TV…the Whitney M. Young Classic, Yankee Stadium…Morgan State vs. Grambling State. The Golden Bears outlasted Grambling State Tigers, 9-7 in a hard-fought game before 54,000 fans.
1984 The inaugural Circle City Classic kicked off in Indianapolis, Indiana in the RCA Dome and was moved to the new Lucas Oil Stadium in 2008 . The weekend’s featured a parade, pageant coronation and music concert. Mississippi Valley State defeated Grambling State 48-36 in a thrilling contest.
2009 Lincoln University and Cheyney University revived the Wade Wilson Classic. The schools last met in 1946, a 72-13 Lincoln win. Cheyney’s last win was a 46-0 victory in 1941. They played to a 0-0 tie in 1935.