In anticipation of The Black Fives, an exhibition opening in March that explores the history of African American basketball teams that existed from the early 1900s through 1950, the New-York Historical Society is initiating a scholarship contest inviting New York City metropolitan area high school students to submit original essays, videos or photographs on the theme of breaking barriers in basketball and making history. A panel of judges will review applications and announce winners in each category.
The scholarship contest seeks entries that answer the question: How has basketball profoundly changed New York history, United States history, or your own personal history?
High School students in 9th through 12th grades may enter at blackfives.nyhistory.org now through February 24, 2014. One winning entry in each of the categories (essay, photo, video) will be selected for a grand prize $1,000 college scholarship.
Just after the game of basketball was invented in 1891, teams were often called “fives” in reference to their five starting players. Teams made up entirely of African American players were referred to as “colored fives,” “Negro fives,” or “black fives,” and the period became known as the Black Fives Era. From its amateur beginnings, dozens of all-black professional teams emerged during the Black Fives Era in New York City, Washington, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlantic City, Cleveland, and other cities where a substantial African American population lived.
As much about the forward progress of black culture as a whole as it is about the history of basketball, the exhibition is a collaborative partnership between the New-York Historical Society and Claude Johnson, a historian and author who is the founder and executive director of the Black Fives Foundation. Drawn primarily from the Foundation’s collection, the exhibition will feature artifacts, memorabilia, photographs, ephemera and other historical materials from the Black Fives Era.
Photo of the New York Girls basketball team, 1910. Courtesy of the Black Fives Foundation