Integrate the Record Books
Black high-school athletes from the Jim Crow era have been denied their place in history. It’s time to change that.
One record that should be included in the record book right now is the 65-game winning streak by Horse Cave Colored School in the 1940s. Horse Cave, a powerhouse African-American program, became the first school in Kentucky to produce seven all-state players, three of whom would play for the Globetrotters. Though the 65-game winning streak wasn’t accomplished under KHSAA auspices, it’s worthy of at least an asterisk in its official records.
More states in the South and Midwest should find places for researchers like Louis Stout. Diligent investigations of microfilm of black newspapers might not turn up every statistic of every notable player, but they will expand on the record of a woefully undocumented era.
With very few Louis Stouts to go around, most research is now undertaken by interested parties. Ron Lawson Jr., for instance, was determined to find news accounts of his father Ronald Lawson Sr., who led Nashville’s Pearl High School to two straight black national championships in 1958 and 1959. Lawson Jr. eventually found his father’s high school statistics in a Los Angeles Times article. (Lawson Sr. played at UCLA under John Wooden.) While impressive, Lawson Sr.’s junior and senior averages (around 28 points and 17 rebounds per game) don’t warrant inclusion into the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association’s record book. Still, his son's investigations have helped expand his father's legacy since his 2002 death, and Lawson Sr. gained passage to the TSSAA's Hall of Fame in 2004.
Lawson Jr. says there are other pre-integration stars in Tennessee who haven’t gotten as much attention as his father. He hopes researching their careers brings them deserved recognition, preferably while they’re still alive. “I believe you need to smell your flowers when you’re above ground,” he says.
Miles and Ausbie, who are both still living, have both made the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. Ridgle, who died in 1998, has not. These three basketball greats, like many of their contemporaries, get mentioned on plaques at community basketball courts or in special newspaper sections on black pioneers. But their exclusion from the record books means they’re excluded from mainstream media, which means that their names will be increasingly forgotten.
Major League Baseball doesn’t incorporate numbers from the Negro Leagues into its accounts of all-time leaders. But MLB doesn’t purport that its statistics represent the total history of baseball in the United States. When states proffer lists of record holders, by contrast, every effort should be made to ensure that those lists are complete. At minimum, state activities associations need to make sure their press releases mention that the official records exclude many deserving black players. As players like Eddie Miles and Geese Ausbie wait to get their due, we should at least acknowledge that they’ve been forgotten.