African Americans in sports new focus of Emory Libraries collection

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. 

Emory University’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL) has 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.

Former NFL player Pellom McDaniels III 06G 07PhD, who is MARBL’s consultant curator for the collection, 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. McDaniels, who earned master’s and Ph.D. degrees in American studies from Emory’s Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts, is also an author and an assistant professor of history and American studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

While MARBL has collections related to African Americans and religion, the arts, literature and poetry, civil rights, and other areas, there was 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:

  • A publicity photo of boxer Joe Louis and a ticket stub from the Joe Louis/Max Schmeling fight in 1938.

  • A color illustrated print of Tom Cribb knocking out Tom Molineaux at a London fight in the first half of the 19th century.

  • 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.”—Maureen McGavin