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Rediscover forgotten basketball history this spring at the New-York Historical Society
Vintage leather and canvas basketball shoes, ca. 1910s. Leather, canvas. Courtesy of the Black Fives Foundation.



NEW YORK, NY.- A new exhibition at the New-York Historical Society celebrates a forgotten era in sports history. On view from March 14 through July 20, 2014, The Black Fives explores the pioneering African-American basketball teams that existed in New York City and elsewhere from the early 1900s through 1950, the year the National Basketball Association became racially integrated.

Soon after the game of basketball was invented in 1891, teams were often called “fives” in reference to their five starting players. Teams made up entirely of African-American players were referred to as “colored fives,” “Negro fives,” or “black fives,” and the period became known as the Black Fives Era. From its amateur beginnings, dozens of all-black professional teams emerged during the Black Fives Era in New York City, Washington, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Chicago, and other cities with a substantial African-American population.

A collaborative partnership between the New-York Historical Society and the Black Fives Foundation, the exhibition is as much about the forward progress of black culture as a whole as it is about the history of basketball. The Black Fives is drawn primarily from the Foundation’s collection and features artifacts, memorabilia, photographs, ephemera and other historical materials from the Black Fives Era. The exhibition is organized by guest curator Claude Johnson, a historian and author who is the founder and executive director of the Black Fives Foundation, and coordinating curator Stephen Edidin, Chief Curator & Curator of American & European Art of the New-York Historical Society.

Highlights of The Black Fives include archival images of the earliest African American basketball teams, including the Alpha Physical Culture Club, the nation’s first all-black athletic club (1912); the New York Girls, the first all-black female team (1910); and team photos of the New York Renaissance (also known as the “Harlem Rens”), Smart Set Athletic Club, Harlem Globetrotters, and the Washington Bears.

Among the exhibition’s unique pieces are a 1914 gold-leafed basketball medallion promoting the St. Christopher Club of Harlem; a 1937 New York Renaissance vs. Oshkosh All Stars game ticket stub; and a complete collection of event programs for the World’s Championship of Professional Basketball played from 1939-1948 and won by three different African American teams.

The Black Fives also features vintage African American basketball ephemera, such as newspaper broadsheets and clippings, scrapbooks, game placards and flyers, such as a 1943 official souvenir program for the “5th Annual World’s Championship Basketball Tournament”; a 1912 “Pittsburgh vs. New York” advertisement for the Annual Christmas Basketball Games and Dance of the Alpha Physical Culture Club; and a 1946 placard promoting “The Game of the Century, Renaissance vs. New Britain Pros.”

An assortment of antique team equipment on view includes leather and canvas basketball shoes typical of those used in the 1910s, buckle-front shorts, leather & wool basketball knee pads, and vintage laced leather basketballs.










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