America’s most known African-American athletes gather to hear Muhammad Ali (formerly Cassius Clay) give his reasons for rejecting the draft, United States, June 4, 1967.
Front row: Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Kareem Abdul Jabar (formerly Lew Alcindor).
Back row: Carl Stokes, Walter Beach, Bobby Mitchell, Sid Williams, Curtis McClinton, Willie Davis, Jim Shorter, and John Wooten.
African-American winners Tommie Smith (gold medalist) and John Carlos (bronze medalist) used the podium to express their opposition to racism during the U.S. national anthem at the Olympic Games, in 1968.
As members of the Olympic Project for Human Rights their silent ‘black power’ salute resulted in them returning home as hero’s to the African-American community, whilst the wider community, who were furious at their political statement, ensured they were suspended from the US team and the Olympic Village. For several years afterwards they received death threats and were unable to obtain employment as a result of their courageous actions.
In 1947, Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey approached Jackie Robinson about joining the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Major Leagues had not had an African-American player since 1889, when baseball became segregated. When Jackie first donned a Brooklyn Dodger uniform, he pioneered the integration of professional athletics in America. By breaking the color barrier in baseball, the nation’s preeminent sport, he courageously challenged the deeply rooted custom of racial segregation in both the North and the South.
History was made on the night of March 19, 1966, in College Park, Md., when Texas Western College (now University of Texas at El Paso) Head Coach Don Haskins started, for the first time, an all-black lineup in the NCAA championship. In a game punctuated by David “Daddy D” Lattin’s thunderous dunks and Bobby Joe Hill’s lightning-quick steals, the Miners upset Kentucky 72-65 for the national title.
The win soon grew into a symbol for blacks’ breakthrough into college sports. After the ‘66 championship, college teams throughout the South began aggressively recruiting black athletes, ending years of shameful segregation.
In 1975, after several years of lower levels of success, Ashe played his best season ever by winning Wimbledon, unexpectedly defeating Jimmy Connors in the final. He remains the only African American player ever to win the men’s singles at Wimbledon, the US Open, or Australian Open, and one of only two men of black African ancestry to win a Grand Slam singles event (the other being France‘s Yannick Noah, who won the French Open in 1983). He would play for several more years, but after being slowed by heart surgery in 1979, Ashe retired in 1980.