This exhibition covers the pioneering history of the 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. Just 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-the period became known as the Black Fives Era.
Dozens of all-black teams emerged during the Black Fives Era, in New York City, Washington, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlantic City, Cleveland, and other cities where a substantial African-American population lived. The Black Fives Era came to an end in the late 1940s with the growth in stature of black college basketball programs combined with the gradual racial integration of previously whites-only collegiate basketball conferences and professional basketball leagues. The overarching significance of the Black Fives Era is that it is as much about the forward progress of black culture as a whole as it is about the history of basketball. This history is relevant today not only as a realization of our collective basketball roots but also as a search for identity.
The exhibition will be a collaboration and partnership between the New-York Historical Society and Claude Johnson, a historian and author who is the founder and executive director of the Black Fives Foundation, whose mission is to research, preserve, exhibit, and promote the inspiring pre-1950 history of African-American basketball teams in order to help teach life lessons, while honoring its pioneers and their descendants. Among its activities, the organization maintains a collection of artifacts, ephemera, memorabilia, objects, photographs, images, and other material relating to the period.
Tuesday - Thursday from 10am to 6pm
Friday from 10am to 8pm
Saturday from 10am to 6pm
Sunday from 11am to 5pm
- Photo of the basketball team of the Smart Set Athletic Club of Brooklyn, 1909. Courtesy of the Black Fives Foundation
- “Pittsburgh vs. New York,” advertisement for Annual Christmas Basketball Games and Dance of the Alpha Physical Culture Club, 1912. Courtesy of the Black Fives Foundation
- Photo of the Dayton Rens (New York Rens) basketball team, from the 1948 National Basketball League Yearbook. Courtesy of the Black Fives Foundation
- Photo of the Alpha Physical Culture Club basketball team, 1912. Courtesy of the Black Fives Foundation
- Vintage leather and canvas basketball shoes, ca. 1910s. Leather, canvas. Courtesy of the Black Fives Foundation
- Photo of the New York Rens professional basketball team (detail), 1939. Courtesy of the Black Fives Foundation