Soccer and the Color Line

Football in Central Park c. 1915

Take a moment to click on the above link and look at a photograph from the collections of the Museum of the City of New York. Dated approximately 1915, the image is labeled “Football in Central Park” and shows two teams, one dressed in a pale kit the other wearing a darker color.

Close examination of the photo seems to reveal that one of the teams may include black players. The museum has an excellent tool that allows visitors to enlarge the image up to 200% without losing much of the resolution. Of course determining the skin color of the players in an old black and white photograph is no easy matter. Nevertheless, we do know that one or more black soccer clubs existed in the city during this period. The pitches at Central Park were commonly used for Metropolitan League games during the 1920s and presumably before that. It may be the case that other local leagues also played on the fields especially given their location in the heart of the city. Many other parks and playing fields existed but were generally located on the fringes of Manhattan or in other boroughs including Brooklyn and the Bronx. Given that there is so little concrete information on black clubs its almost impossible to identify what club if any may have been photographed playing in the game. If further research was able to determine that the club depicted was indeed one of the black clubs, or just that some of the players were black, the photograph likely represents one of the earliest images of black soccer players in the United States.

Listen to the Soccer and the Color Line podcast here.

Originally posted November 2013.

Further Reading

Adrian Burgos Jr., Playing America’s Game. Baseball, Latinos and the Color Line

Tom Dunmore, “Truth, Crushed to Earth, Shall Rise Again. The Howard University soccer team’s journey of Redemption” XI (Summer 2012): 43-59.

John Tehranian, Whitewashed: America’s Invisible Middle Eastern Minority

Irma Watkins-Owens, Blood Relations: Caribbean Immigrants and the Harlem Community, 1900-1930

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