MARBL's new collecting focus: African Americans in sports

Published 07-13-2011

A few of the items in MARBL's African Americans in Sports Collection are pictured here, including a publicity photo of boxer Joe Louis, a ticket stub from his 1938 match against Max Schmeling, a team photo of the Atlanta Black Crackers and a Hank Aaron media guide.

The Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL) recently announced a new collecting focus – African Americans in sports. The collection brings to light the effect athletes and others in the sports world had on the civil rights movement and their struggle to be recognized for the impact of their achievements on society.

“The general public, even to this day, believes that sports are a trivial endeavor, a form of entertainment or escapism – and that those who play must not be skilled at other things, because if they were, why aren't they doctors or lawyers?” says former NFL player Pellom McDaniels III, who is a MARBL consultant curator for the collection. “The complex meanings associated with African Americans participating in sports, which historically were used to assist in the community building process, have been lost.” McDaniels, who earned a master’s and PhD in American studies from Emory’s ILA, is also an author and an assistant professor of history and American studies at the University of Missouri – Kansas City.

McDaniels says many African American athletes were instrumental in the civil rights movement, including Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Curt Flood, and 1968 Olympic track and field medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos. While MARBL has collections related to African Americans and religion, the arts, literature and poetry, civil rights and other areas, there was precious little in the area of sports until recently.

The new collecting focus was sparked by the spring 2010 acquisition of the William Clyde “Doc” Partin Sr. collection, which includes Partin’s essays about baseball Hall of Famers Earle Combs, Frank Robinson, Babe Ruth and others, as well as posters, documents, signed baseballs, and a large collection of books about African American athletes. Randall Burkett, curator of MARBL’s African American Collections, says Partin, who died in 2009, was a beloved member of the Emory community. He served in the university's physical education department for more than half a century as a teacher, coach, athletics director, author and baseball game announcer. He also was an avid collector of sports history.

The African Americans in Sports collection currently consists of items purchased by Burkett at auctions, supplemented by materials from other MARBL African American collections and the Partin collection.

Some of the significant items in the new collection include:

  • The 1897 edition of “Lives and Battles of Famous Black Pugilists,” held by only one other library in the United States.
  • A publicity photo of boxer Joe Louis and a ticket stub from the Joe Louis/Max Schmeling fight in 1938.
  • A rare first edition of historian Edwin Bancroft Henderson’s book “The Negro in Sports,” originally published in 1939.
  • A color print of Tom Cribb knocking out Tom Molineaux at a London fight in the first half of the 19th century.
  • A signed 1939 photo of Martín Dihigo, a two-time All-Star in the American Negro leagues and the only player to be inducted into the American, Cuban and Mexican Baseball Halls of Fame.
  • A team photo of the Atlanta Black Crackers, the counterpart to the white Minor League Atlanta Crackers baseball team, active in the first half of the 20th century.
  • Broadsides promoting games, and baseballs autographed by Hank Aaron, Satchel Paige, Buck O’Neil and other legendary players, from the Clyde Partin collection.

  • Burkett says that over the years Emory faculty members have taught courses about sports, racism and American culture, and they’ve visited MARBL seeking historical information. “This collection will have tremendous research value,” he says. “This is an interesting and important area, and there is a wealth of material that needs to be preserved.”

    The new collecting focus was announced in May, when MARBL and the Emory Libraries hosted “What’s Next? A Symposium on Race and Sports in American Culture.” Panelists Mike Glenn, former NBA player; Gerald Early, director of the Center for the Humanities at Washington University in St. Louis; and Earl Lewis, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at Emory and African American studies professor, discussed race and sports and their impact on American culture and civil rights. McDaniels was the moderator. The symposium can be viewed on Emory’s iTunes U channel and YouTube page.