Jack Johnson becomes the first African-American heavyweight boxing champion of the world
Johnson was reviled for his defiance of Jim Crow laws. After winning the heavyweight title, the press began calling for the “Great White Hope” a white fighter who could defeat Johnson and return the heavyweight title to a white man. In 1912, Johnson defeated Jim Jeffries who was hailed as the white hope some had been waiting for and he held the heavyweight title from 1908 to 1915.
Fritz Pollard breaks color barrier in professional football. Kenny Washington, Woody Strode, Bill Willis and Marion Motley reintegrate the NFL.
Pollard, a Black man, begins his professional football career in 1919, joining the Akron Pros. Two years later in 1921, he becomes the first Black coach in NFL history after being named co-coach of the team. In 1923, Pollard becomes the first Black quarterback in the league’s history as a member of the Hammond Pros. After Pollard leaves the game, NFL owners refuse to sign Black players until 1946, when the Los Angeles Coliseum threatens not to host Los Angeles Rams home games unless the team signs an African American player. It was then that the Rams sign UCLA standouts Washington and Strode. Willis and Motley, two future Hall of Famers, would join the Cleveland Browns later that year. In 2005, Pollard is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Women granted the right to vote
American woman are granted the right to vote through the ratification of the 19th Amendment in the U.S. Constitution. However, the women’s suffrage movement and the 19th Amendment are not fully inclusive as the amendment does not intend to benefit women of color and purposefully pushes their plight to the boundaries. It will not be until the 1960s that all women can truly exercise their right to vote, but even that freedom is still being threatened today with new legislation restricting voter access.
Jesse Owens wins four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin
Owens won four gold medals in the long jump, 100 and 200-meter dashes and the 400-meter relay at the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany. During the Games, Owens and German athlete Luz Long forged a friendship and proved that competitors can also be allies. After Owens defeated Long in the long jump, the two celebrated together in a gesture of sportsmanship and friendship and a classic example of the unifying nature of sport. When Owens returned to the U.S., however, he still faced racism in a segregated country and was never even congratulated by the White House for his record-breaking Olympics. Owens said “Hitler didn’t snub me; it was our president who snubbed me.”
Jackie Robinson becomes the first Black player in Major League Baseball
“I am not concerned with your liking or disliking me. All I ask is that you respect me as a human being,” says Robinson, who breaks the MLB color barrier when he takes the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers after executive Branch Rickey signs him to a historic contract. Robinson wins the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1947, and two years he later he’s honored as the league’s Most Valuable Player. Robinson helps the Dodgers win six National League pennants and the 1955 World Series title. In 1962, Robinson becomes a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Satchel Paige becomes first Negro League pitcher in Major League Baseball.
On his 42nd birthday, following an amazing career in the Negro Leagues, Satchel Paige made Major League Baseball (MLB) history becoming both the first Negro League pitcher in the American League and the oldest player to debut in the Major Leagues. Paige is one of baseball’s most prolific pitchers; having found success in both the Negro Leagues and MLB, he was also the first African-American pitcher inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Civil Rights Movement
The civil rights movement was a struggle for social justice that took place mainly during the 1950s and 1960s and sought equal rights under the law for African-Americans in the United States. The movement achieved its largest legislative gains in the mid-1960s, after years of community organizing and direct actions. In addition to civil rights leaders, many athletes who were also impacted personally brought attention to this movement and supported its mission.
Brown v. Board of Education Decision : The Supreme Court Decision Dismisses “Separate but Equal” in Public Schools
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was a landmark Supreme Court case in which the justices ruled unanimously that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional. The decision helped establish the precedent that “separate-but-equal” education and other services were not, in fact, equal at all.
Rosa Parks arrested
On the evening of December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man in Montgomery, AL. She was arrested for disobeying an Alabama law requiring black passengers to give their seats to white passengers when the bus was full. This incident contributed to Montgomery Bus Boycott, a 381-day boycott of the Montgomery bus system led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that resulted in a 1956 Supreme Court decision banning segregation on public transportation.
Charlie Sifford plays in his first PGA Tour
Charlie Sifford was the first African American to compete in PGA-sanctioned events following the removal of the PGA’s “Caucasian-only” membership clause in 1961. Sifford went on to win PGA Tour events in 1967 and 1969 as well as the 1975 PGA Seniors’ Championship and was the first African American to be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. He also was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014.