Despite tennis’s emphasis on singular achievement, black tennis occupied an important social and cultural space in building African American communities in Newport and Providence in the early 1900s. Black tennis clubs, along with fraternal and civic organizations, encouraged participation and arranged tournaments that reflected the politics of respectability, but also strengthened racial identity, fortified community, and showcased an innovative form of cultural and artistic expression. The program will spotlight the Old Hometown Tennis and Athletic Club, which was established in Newport in 1927 by leaders associated with all four African heritage churches, the Newport NAACP, and other civic associations. The Black tennis club hosted tournaments on backyard tennis courts as part of a broader strategy to instill “social uplift and physical culture” among the young in Newport.
Robert Cvornyek, former chair of the History Department at Rhode Island College, is currently an assistant teaching professor at Florida State University. He has written extensively on the intersection of race and sport and co-directs the program “If It Ain’t Got That Swing: Baseball, Jazz, and Black Cultural Expression.”
Keith Stokes is Vice President of the 1696 Heritage Group, a historical consulting firm dedicated to helping persons and institutions of color to increase their knowledge and access to the light of truth of their unique American heritage. Mr. Stokes is a frequent national, state and local lecturer in community and regional planning, historic preservation and interpretation with an expertise in early African and Jewish American history.
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