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March 31, 1934
On March 31, 1934, the Norfolk Journal and Guide reported that the national champion Philadelphia Tribune Girls basketball team was on a tour through the South. A game in Greensboro agains the Bennett College, the 1934 undefeated college champions, drew over 1200 fans (the Tribune Girls won, 31-22). As the name would suggest, the Tribune girls were sponsored by Philadelphia leading African American newspaper.
The Black Fives Foundation, an amazing organization that researches and teaches about the history of black basketball, describes the formation of the Philadelphia Tribune Girls basketball team:
Patterson was joined on the team by another great athlete, Ora Washington. In addition to being one of the best basketball players of her era, Washington won the American Tennis Association's national singles title eight times in the 1930s.
There are few teams in any sport, any place, that dominated so completely and for so long. The Tribune Girls won eleven 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...
Patterson, a record-setting Temple University athlete who was an All-Collegiate selection in many sports including basketball, was the Quick Steppers’ most talented player. A West Philadelphia native and the team’s captain, Patterson had led the Quick Steppers to a 15-1 record and the Eastern Colored Women’s Basketball Championship title during the previous season, in 1929.
More than a great athlete, Patterson, who also managed the team, was far ahead of her time as a black female sports promoter and entrepreneur. In 1930 she approached the powerful Philadelphia Tribune, a leading Negro newspaper, to propose a team sponsorship arrangement between the paper and the Quick Steppers. Patterson went to Otto Briggs, the newspaper’s circulation manager. He was also a part owner of the publication, and the husband of the president of the paper. The Tribune newspaper sponsored and promoted her basketball team, bringing free advertising, exposure, and financial stability to her club during a time of great uncertainty at the start of the Great Depression.
With a vested interest in the team, the Philadelphia Tribune covered the squad and women's basketball extensively in this decade. Some of my favorite items I found are picture highlight individual players: "Speedy" Sis Lowery, "Clever" Marie Leach, Rose Wilson, and Myrtle Wilson. The team was absolutely dominant, losing only four games from 1932 to 1936.
The quality of play was high enough that Tribune sports editor Randy Dixon had a difficult time selecting the top ten players from among the women's teams in Philadelphia. "It might be expedient to inject a word or so about the tremendous strides made in girls' basketball in this area. The femme casaba artists have leaped forward with leaps and bounds. While two seasons back a girls' game was considered more in the light of a feeble attempt by the weaker sex at playing a man's game, it is now, in several instances quite different. With the general advancement in interest, the improvement in individuals and team play has kept pace. As a natural consequence several outstanding girls have been developed" (click to view PDF).
Dixon described Ora Washington as "the greatest girl player of the age. Though lacking the perfection of smoothness that goes with the finished product, Ora can do everything required of a basketball player. She passes and shoots with either hand. She is a ball hawk. She has stamina and speed that make many male players blush with envy. And despite comparatively elaborate defenses; especially mapped out to stop her she has averaged 16 points per game with a high total of 38 points in one game. Ora without hesitation is honored as the outstanding girl player of the year and with it the captaincy of the first team."
For more on the history of women's basketball, see Pamela Grundy and Susan Shackelford's Shattering the Glass: The Remarkable History of Women's Basketball.
Scalar and Scholarly Communication
Black Quotidian is a born-digital project that uses Scalar, an open-access, multimedia web-authoring platform that enables authors to assemble images, videos, maps, and other media and to juxtapose these resources with text. I designed Black Quotidian to explore the capabilities of Scalar in two ways. First, as a media historian, I have long appreciated Scalar’s multimedia capabilities. Visitors to Black Quotidian can read news coverage from the black press while also watching or listening to contemporaneous musical performances, athletic events, or political speeches that are difficult to describe textually. Using Scalar, Black Quotidian conveys the sounds, sights, and movements that are so important to African-American history. The April 15, 1939 post, for example, features coverage of Marian Anderson’s landmark performance at the Lincoln Memorial from the Chicago Defender and Norfolk Journal and Guide, alongside newsreel film footage of Anderson’s concert from the UCLA Film & Television Archive's “Hearst Metrotone News Collection.”
Second, Scalar offered new possibilities for structuring my research and writing, both in terms of the Black Quotidian’s development and its scope. This project developed gradually, without a predetermined plan for what each of the daily posts would cover. In some cases, I searched for historical articles related to specific people or events (e.g., the holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday or the Little Rock School Integration Crisis). On other dates, I browsed a random newspaper to find an interesting article (e.g., what did people read about in the Los Angeles Sentinel on May 22, 1947?). After each daily post was finished, I would share the link via Twitter. In this way, parts of the project were complete and were being read online, while the larger project was still under construction. What started as a handful of pages and media objects, soon grow to the hundreds, and eventually expanded to over one thousand newspaper articles, images and videos. Through this accumulation of these daily posts, the project presents visitors with an overwhelming array of material in the hope that this feeling of too-muchness conveys a sense of the breadth of African-American history. Readers do not need to visit every page, read every article, or click every link to learn more about black newspapers and how these newspapers recorded everyday life in black communities.
Through these multimedia capabilities and possibilities for structuring, Scalar enabled me to communicate my research differently. Black Quotidian could only exist digitally and was intentionally designed to be different from a monograph or journal article. As Lara Putnam noted in the April 2015 Perspectives on History, “handcuffing scholarly dissemination” to the academic monograph “imposes opportunity costs” in terms of “collective knowledge,” “individual careers,” and “historians’ place in public debate.” I have come to view scholarly communication, via Twitter and elsewhere, as an everyday process rather than something that happens intermittently, at conferences or through articles and books. Scalar’s open-access format makes it possible to share primary sources about events and people—such as basketball and tennis star Ora Washington, Ghana’s independence, Cleveland businessman and hairdresser Wilbert Black, and civil rights activist Victoria DeLee—with popular audiences in ways that simply are not possible in traditional print forms.
Digital history represents a new way to continue traditions that have long been important for scholars of African American history and culture, as well as scholars working on LGBTQ, Native American, Latina/o, and Asian American history. These traditions include being creative and resourceful in terms of methodology, and communicating knowledge beyond the academy. Carter G. Woodson’s vision of scholarly communication, promoting history one mail-order pamphlet at a time, remains valuable in our digital age and Black Quotidian aims to build on these earlier efforts.
The next path examines how African-American newspapers popularized black history and encouraged readers to see black history as something that is made, and should be studied, everyday.