“Physical culture knows no age limits.”
—Conrad Norman, 1904

Conrad Norman

Conrad Norman.

Role: Pioneering athletic club founder, athlete, manager, promoter, sports organizer, and physical fitness advocate.

Teams: Alpha Physical Culture Club

In the early 1900s, the mortality rate from tuberculosis and pneumonia among African Americans in New York City was 25%, due to unhealthy overcrowded living conditions.

Black leaders like fitness-minded community organizer Conrad Norman believed that programs encouraging lung exercise would help. To address these concerns, Norman organized the Alpha Physical Culture Club in 1904.

The club founders picked the name “Alpha” because they saw themselves as pioneers in the field of physical culture, as “fitness” was called then.

The club had a strong allegiance not only among West Indians but also among American-born blacks, and its motto was, “A Square Deal For All!”

The Alpha Physical Culture Club formed a basketball team in 1907, the Alpha Big Five, on which Norman played.

Alpha Physical Culture Club basketball team, representing America’s first all-black athletic club 1910 Reproduction

An image of the Alpha Physical Culture Club basketball team, representing America’s first all-black athletic club, ca. 1910, as displayed in the Black Fives exhibit at the New-York Historical Society.

Norman was also the coach and manager of the New York Girls, the sister squad of the Alpha Big Five, which in 1910 became the country’s first female all-black independently-run basketball team.