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Black Writers Get in the Game



In the early 1990s, Northeastern Illinois University history professor Patrick B. Miller and George Mason University sport studies professor David K. Wiggins began collecting essays, interviews, and other articles by African-American athletes, scholars, and sportswriters. The voices of black athletes were missing from scholarly treatments of sports, they felt, and writing produced by black writers about the relevance of sports to the community had been marginalized. Last year the pair published the results of their research as The Unlevel Playing Field: A Documentary History of the African American Experience in Sport (University of Illinois Press). The 112 pieces in the collection trace black experience in sport from the antebellum period to the present day, beginning with black boxer Tom Molineaux's 1810 challenge to white fighter Tom Crib in the pages of the London Times. Elsewhere, novelist Richard Wright describes the pride that spread through Harlem after Joe Louis pummeled Max Schmeling in a 1938 match; Olympic rowing medalist Anita DeFrantz argues in a 1991 Sports Illustrated essay that racism keeps black women from getting college-level coaching and administrative jobs; and cultural critic Bell Hooks takes the makers of Hoop Dreams, the acclaimed 1994 documentary about two Chicago high school basketball stars, to task for reinforcing the American "ethic of competition." The book's broad and inclusive approach to history, hopes Wiggins, will allow "individual readers an opportunity to draw their own interpretations and more directly ascertain both the meaning and role of sport in the African-American community." He and Miller will discuss the book at 11 AM on Saturday, January 24, at the Book Stall at Chestnut Court, 811 Elm in Winnetka (847-446-8880) and at 3 PM on Sunday, January 25, at the Chicago Historical Society, 1601 N. Clark in Chicago (312-642-4600). Both events are free.

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