Women's Hoops Blog

Inane commentary on a game that deserves far better

Sunday, April 13, 2008

I'll admit I'm an amateur-obsessive about women's basketball history. (Yes, I know there are dead links to be addressed -- I'm looking at YOU Eastern Carolina! -- not to mention the list of AAU All-Americans from 1929 on...)

While the internet is a great source of information, the real gold lives in the memories of players and the pages of century-old newspapers. Fortunately, there are people out there doing the true work of traveling, researching, writing and getting someone to publish the beast. They've produced such books as:
The Only Dance In Iowa: A History Of Six-Player Girls' Basketball by Max McElwain. 2004

A Century of Women's Basketball: From Frailty to Final Four by Joan S. Hult. 1991.

A History of Basketball for Girls and Women
: From Bloomers to Big Leagues by Joanne Lannin. 2000.

Just for Fun: The Story of AAU Women's Basketball by Robert W. Ikard. 2005.

Lady Hoopsters by Linda G. Ford. 1998.

Senda Berenson: The Unlikely Founder of Women's Basketball by Ralph Melnick. 2007.

Shattering The Glass: The Remarkable History of Women's Basketball by Pamela Grundy and Susan Shackelford. 2005.

Mad Seasons: The Story of the First Women's Professional Basketball League, 1978 - 1981 by Karra Porter. 2006.
But, there is still a huge treasure trove of primary material out there just begging to be explored -- not just about women's basketball in general, but its role within Native American communities (I eagerly await the publication of Peavy and Smith's book on the 1904 Fort Shaw team), immigrant communities in the early 1900's, Japanese-American communities interned in the 1940's, black communities... you get the point.

Which brings me to Claude Johnson, Black Fives, Inc. and the Black Fives Blog:
Black Fives, Inc. researches, preserves, promotes, and teaches the history of African American participation in basketball. In particular, its focus is on the many all-black teams that played from the early 1900s through the late-1940s, prior to the racial integration of pro basketball, a period that I call the Black Fives Era.

Through scholarly research, methodical archival preservation, trademark protection, and thoughtful promotion, our goal is to bring the teams of the Black Fives Era back to life. Why? Because in the basketball family tree, this era is where our lineage started; those players are our on-court ancestors. This is our history. We should be conscious of it. Learning about our past may teach us new things about ourselves, and allow us to put some present-day issues and circumstances into better perspective.
A man (and group) after my own heart.

Those who've scanned through the timeline have caught tantalizing glimpses of the fabulous Ora Mae Washington, the legendary Philly Tribunes and the Chicago Roamers. So, it's with particular delight that I see that Johnson and crew have fleshed out this skeleton of knowledge with great research and scans of some fabulous primary sources.

You can check out a series of blog posts that launched with this salvo:

"Today, December 3, 2007 at 5:59 a.m., Black Fives hereby declares December as Black Women’s Basketball History Month." The post was done at 5:59 a.m. this morning, in order to take priority in the universe over Don Imus, who went back on the air at 6:00 a.m. today.

1. Top 10 Terms Imus Could Have Used - 10 out-of-date, once-politically correct, historically accurate terms for African American female basketball teams.

2. Female Black Fives Invade Philly
The first Colored Y.W.C.A. was established in 1918 in Germantown, a racially diverse community in the northern section of Philadelphia, Pa. The Germantown Hornets, a championship African American women’s basketball team, were formed in 1929 in affiliation with this original “Branch for Colored Girls and Women.”
3. The Chicago Roamer Girls Were Pretty, Magnificent
Formed in Chicago in 1921 by local basketball and track star Edward “Sol” Butler, the Roamer Athletic Club was originally affiliated with the Grace Presbyterian Church’s Sunday School.The Roamer Girls won their very first game, played at the massive 8th Regiment Armory on Chicago’s South Side on Saturday on March 19, 1921, against the Olivet Baptist Church Cosmopolitans. The Roamers featured Lillian Speed, Pollie Rickman, Margrete Lewis, Corinne Robinson, Mignon Burns, Lillian Ross, Virginia Willis, Lula Porter, and Isadore “Izzy” Channels.
4. Death By Chocolate Co-eds
... the South Side of Chicago in the early 1930s witnessed the birth of one of the greatest women’s basketball teams ever created, the Club Store Coeds, a.k.a. the Chocolate Coeds.

The Coeds were formed by local nightclub promoter Dick Hudson, and they took over where the Roamer Girls, Oberlin Girls, Olivet Girls, and Savoy Colts had left off.

The team featured a lineup of all-stars that included four-time All-American Kate Bard of Crane College in Chicago (now Malcolm X College), former Oberlin Co-eds and Philadelphia Tribunes player Bernice “Mighty Atom” Marshall, former Oberlin Coeds player and La Salle College of Chicago star Marge Jackson, two-time Olympian hurdler Tydie Pickett, Vi Casey, an All-American from “colored girls” college national champion Xavier University, Lula Porter, a four-time winner of the all-black American Tennis Association’s women’s singles championship, Naomi Stokes, formerly of the St. Louis Argus Five, and Helen “Streamline” Smith, a graduate of Lemoyne College in Memphis, who at 6-feet 7-inches was perhaps the tallest female in basketball.
5. All Hail The Philadelphia Tribune Girls! (Happy Birthday Ora Mae Washington 1/23/08)
The Tribune Girls won 11 straight Women’s Colored Basketball World’s Championships.

The Tribune Girls were formed in 1930 with players from the Philadelphia Quick Steppers and the Germantown Hornets, two exceptional local all-black female basketball teams.

The Quick Steppers featured Inez Patterson, a phenomenal sports star who also managed and coached the team. The Hornets’ lineup included two amazing athletes who were already nationally renowned as tennis players, Ora Washington and Lula Ballard.