Frank A. Guridy

 

On his book The Sports Revolution: How Texas Changed the Culture of American Athletics

Cover Interview of March 03, 2021

The wide angle

Since childhood, I have been passionate about sports. I played baseball in my youth, but I am embarrassed to admit that I was—and still am—a sports geek who could recite scores and statistics from memory. Sport for me had always been an intellectual exercise whether I was performing on the field or when I studied the game off of it. Yet, I never dared to draw upon that knowledge in my own scholarship and teaching until I finished my first book, Forging Diaspora. Reading the exciting new work in sports studies over the past 10-15 years, seen in the work of historians Laurent Dubois, Adrian Burgos, Jr., Brenda Elsey, Louis Moore, among many others, inspired me to apply my training as a historian to my longstanding passion.

This particular book project began to take shape when I was doing public history work while I was the director of the Warfield Center for African and African American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. It was during those years that I encountered a dedicated group of black sports enthusiasts who were firmly committed to preserving the history of African Americans in athletics during the era of Jim Crow segregation and beyond. Historian Michael Hurd’s Thursday Night Lights compellingly documents the history of black athletics in Jim Crow Texas. In this history, I saw how black sporting institutions, like black churches and schools, provided spaces of community formation that helped African Americans survive Jim Crow, as it did for the state’s Mexican American population too. Sport also provided a vehicle of upward mobility for working-class white Texans.

These realizations, along with my evolving interest in sports history, led me to jump at the chance to write a history of sport and society in Texas, a region that was shaped by its legacy of colonization, slavery, and Jim Crow segregation, but had been undeniably transformed by the influx of black and marginalized people into previously prohibited spaces. The enormous popularity of sports in Texas, including its history of cross-racial interaction and entrepreneurial innovation, seemed to be topics worthy of exploration. These suspicions were supported by my research in various archives throughout the state. With the Sports Revolution, I was able to harmonize my longstanding interest in sport performance with my own social justice commitments to join the work of historians who aim to write the history of the United States from the perspective of the dispossessed, the marginalized, and the silenced.

And yet, I can’t help but think that the book runs counter to some of the prevailing trends in U.S. historiography over the past decade or so and especially since the election of Donald Trump. Continuity narratives now dominate the historiography of racism in the United States. As was the case decades ago, the “legacy of slavery” argument is often invoked as the primary explanation for ongoing forms of anti-black racism and social inequality in the United States. While I am not questioning the foundational role of slavery in the history of the U.S., as a social and cultural historian, I tend to be suspicious of such claims of an intractable unchanging problem of “race in America.” Instead, I am convinced that it is the moments of disjuncture—emancipation, the advent of major world wars, and the emergence of powerful social movements—that provide important insights into the reconstitution, rather than the mere persistence, of racial and gender hierarchies. The Sports Revolution tries to show how the 1960s and 1970s, like the period of Reconstruction after the Civil War a century before, was one such moment.