Apr 06

Black Athletes and the Freedom Struggle


From Muhammad Ali to the Williams sisters, the symbolic politics of Black athletes has galvanized the Black Revolt for social justice. Johnny Smith examines the complicated blood brotherhood between Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Malcolm X; and Jennifer Lansbury explores the criminally neglected history of Black women champions from Alice Coachman and Althea Gibson to Wilma Rudolph and Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Most Black athletes emerged from urban poverty to fight injustice. This conversation considers their stories.


  • Johnny Smith

    Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Jennifer H. Lansbury

    Independent Scholar

    Jennifer Lansbury is a twentieth-century cultural historian whose research interest in graduate school changed dramatically—from early American child rearing, to the ways that race, gender, and class intersect in twentieth-century African American women athletes. She received her undergraduate degree in Management from the Georgia Institute of Technology, and her PhD in history from George Mason University. During her time as assistant professor at George Mason, she developed the curriculum for and served as the first director of the interdisciplinary minor, Sport and American Culture. She is the author of “The Tuskegee Flash and the Slender Harlem Stroker: Black Women Athletes on the Margin,” Journal of Sport History (Summer 2001), and “Alice Coachman: Quiet Champion of the 1940s,” in Out of the Shadows: A Biographical History of African American Athletes (2006). Her book A Spectacular Leap: Black Women Athletes in Twentieth-Century America (2014) remains the definitive scholarly work on African American women athletes. She is currently working on her second book, Letters from Okinawa, based on letters her parents wrote to one another while her father was stationed on Okinawa for fourteen months during the late 1950s.


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