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Apple-tab-span {white-space:pre}Charles H. Martin discusses the ‘rise and fall’ of colored collegiate athletes from 1890-1980, in his book Benching Jim Crow of 2010. With this book, Charles dedicates his time to explore the reasons behind African American athletics during both segregation and integration. Once football became increasingly popular by whites, African Americans followed the current. As soon as African Americans got involved in the sport, it showed whites that two different skin colors could come together to enjoy the same sport— instead, whites fought back.

  The socially inferior blacks would be suppressed to a lesser status in the athletic world. In 1920 the Gentleman’s agreement barred African Americans “from intersectional matches against Southern teams, regardless of the teams location” (Martin, 2010, p. 18). In these times, African Americans were accepted in the North while being highly unaccepted in the South. The Gentleman’s agreement started to decline because the Great Depression caused schools to run out of money, ultimately ending competition.

Socially, the agreement went downhill due to the many white veterans, who defended fellow black soldiers, in hopes of proper schooling.  Throughout the rest of the book Martin summarizes the conferences about African American integration, from the end of World War II until the 1980’s. At this point in the book, readers toon out. The repetition of order in which Martin introduces conferences lacks attention-grabbing focal points. The brief histories of each team is stated, then he states how they broke their beliefs about colored athletes. By keeping the same order of chapters, Martin leaves readers with questions and disregards further discussion.  One of the highlighted points in this book is the 1948 Cotton Bowl which took a ‘cautious’ approach to integrated sports. With the Cotton Bowl being a huge success both socially and monetarily, it proved that integrated sports could be possible without causing an uproar.

Martin mentions this story and other interesting cases of successful and unsuccessful integrated athletic events to show how our society has developed. Martin talks about the NCAA’s Standardized Aptitude Test but fails to explain how and why this test existed and how it affected coaches.  Since this book is about African American athleticism, the reference to Jim Crow in the title is quite offsetting.

It is offsetting because this book fails to mention the legality of segregation. Martin also misses out on  detail on important Supreme Court cases that impacted the rights of African Americans. Overall, if you read one chapter on typical Southern college athletics, the reader can get the gist of the entire book.  Overall, Benching Jim Crow can be summarized by the South’s integration of African Americans in sports. Through Supreme Court cases and state/local issues, the United States has come a long way with development.

The interesting relationship between Martin’s examples and how he pulls them together allow the book to flow without losing interest. Since the book is in chronological order, it helps the reader identify what time periods were important for athletes. I would suggest this book to anyone with an interest in sports, but I do not think this was a good book to read for a Sociology class.


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