Click Above Photo to Visit the American Tennis Association (ATA)

Welcome Tennis Lovers!!

Black History Month: Minority Tennis - A Historical Perspective, Part I

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Black Tennis Pro's Bob Davis Black History Month Minority Tennis - A Historical PerspectiveThis Black History Month perspective is the first of a three-part article written by Bob Davis whom you will meet, and on some level come to know, through the words of his writing.

At a time when Bob was a contributing editor for Tennis Life Magazine nearly ten years ago, he wrote this perspective that frankly, engagingly and historically captures the contributions, successes and struggles of Black tennis players and coaches in the world of tennis; it is still on point today. I am excited and honored to be able to share it here on Black Tennis Pro's. Without question I know that you will find it a must-read also.

Bob was referred to me by his brother, Bill Davis, whose story is one of the most read posts here. I will be bringing you more from Bill through a 'Conversation' very soon.

It is Bob's intention, along with others such as Arthur Carrington of Art Carrington Tennis Academy and Dale G. Caldwell of Black Tennis Hall of Fame to accurately preserve and present the history of Blacks in tennis. You will be able to see examples of what these gentlemen are doing to make this happen over the next few weeks.

Bob stated to me that "The players today need to have an appreciation for the the likes of players such as Billy Davis and George Stewart and the people that pioneered the Black tennis world when we were not allowed to play USTA tournaments. Therein lay the value of The ATA (American Tennis Association), our only way to play tennis competitively."

In recounting some of the racial struggles that he, Arthur Ashe and other players endured as they entered the tennis world he said, "Something in me wishes all of these young players understood that it took that kind of perseverance, and that kind of exposure to enable them to just walk out there and send in an entry fee."

I was so captivated with my conversation with Bob that I could go on with those words and the offering would hold just as much interest. However, I will stop here and let you read his thoughts as presented in this perspective.





Slavery was abolished in the United States in 1865. Nearly 15 years later, in 1880, the United States Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA) was founded (The name was later changed to USTA). Tennis was the dominion of the white, upper class and Blacks were neither interested, nor invited to participate. Segregation was rampant throughout America and an attitude of exclusion was pervasive in most areas of American society.

Blacks began to surface on tennis courts in about 1890 at Tuskegee Institute. Booker T. Washington, one of America’s great, black visionaries and leaders, founded Tuskegee. In his famous Atlanta Address of 1895, Booker T. Washington set forth the motivating spirit behind Tuskegee Institute. In a post Reconstruction era marked by growing segregation and disfranchisement of blacks, this spirit was based on what realistically might be achieved in that time and place. "The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now," he observed, "is worth infinitely more than the opportunity to spend a dollar in an opera house." Because of Washington's extraordinary ability to work within the system and to maximize the possible, Tuskegee flourished to the extent only dreamed about when he met his first students on July 4, 1881.

By 1898, Blacks began to have inter-club matches with rival black clubs in New York, Philadelphia and a variety of other eastern seaboard cities. These inter-club rivalries were primarily networking opportunities; occasions for the black, college-graduated elite to commune with their colleagues from other cities. This group of clubs eventually grew in number until an organizational structure was needed. In 1916, the American Tennis Association (ATA) was created as the governing body of Black tennis in America. In the fifty years since slavery was abolished, 80% of the Black population became educated. Nearly 4 million people came out of slavery as legislated illiterates and by 1915, an elite middle-class had been formed. By today’s standards, this is a phenomenal accomplishment. When one considers the growing rate of illiteracy across America, illiteracy that transcends racial lines, we should look at this statistic with awe and wonder!

In any event, it was this continuing attitude of separation that caused a group of black professionals to form the American Tennis Association (ATA) in 1916. The primary mission of the ATA was the formation of a circuit of black clubs and tournaments across the country. This new organization permitted the black elite to travel from city to city, network amongst their peers and enjoy the game of tennis. These separate but unequal tennis societies continued without conflict for nearly 25 years. While blacks enjoyed the social and the networking opportunities provided by the ATA, the USLTA enjoyed the pristine, private, country club environment that offered the same opportunities to it’s constituency.

In many ways, this elite Black society was born of necessity. Blacks were determined to do for themselves what the segregated governing society refused to do for them. Significantly, these elite middle-class Blacks were graduates of Black colleges and universities and were educated in the Arts and Sciences. They became doctors, lawyers and educators and, because there was no access to professional sports at that time, went to college to develop the foundations for lifetime careers.

And so, Black business – and Black tennis flourished during the first quarter of the twentieth century. The ATA held its first national championship in 1917 in Baltimore, MD. Tally Holmes and Lucy Slowe emerged as the winners of that historic event. It was obvious that the ATA had gotten off to a resounding start and now emphasis was being placed on increasing the number of new clubs and the creation of junior development programs. By the mid-1930’s there were more than 100 member-clubs, many of them private, black-owned tennis and golf country clubs. This idyllic serenity was about to undergo a change as players began to improve and the desire to compete at the highest levels of the sport took on greater importance. The very first confrontation came in 1929 when Reginald Weir and Gerald Norman were denied entry into the National Indoors in New York City. Both paid their entry fees, but upon presenting themselves to play in the event, were denied the opportunity to participate. Formal complaints were filed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the following response was received from the USLTA: “….the policy of the USLTA has been to decline the entry of colored players in our championships… In pursuing this policy we make no reflection upon the colored race but we believe that as a practical matter, the present methods of separate associations should be continued.” Neither Weir nor Norman were permitted to play, but it was now clear that the cauldron was being stirred.

Bob Davis currently owns and operates Coastal Tennis and Sports, LLC in Bradenton, Florida.

Read the rest of this post...........

Posted by Shelia
Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Email this post
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Design by Blogger Buster