The Black Fives Exhibition at the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library

Black Fives Exhibition panoramic view

Claude Johnson, Founder and Executive Director of Black Fives Foundation.

Greetings! My name is Claude Johnson, Founder and Executive Director of Black Fives Foundation! Welcome to “The Black Fives,” the first-ever comprehensive museum exhibition about the pre-NBA history of African Americans in basketball! With nearly 200 rare and historically important items, this exhibit is a fascinating journey through the Black Fives Era, which lasted from the early 1900s through 1950, the year the National Basketball Association signed its first African American players. Come on in! Start with the video and then click each chronological section of the exhibition to explore further. Thank you very much for your visit!

A More Detailed Look

“The Black Fives”, an exhibition that was at the New-York Historical Society from March 14, 2014 through July 20, 2014, covers the pioneering history of the African-Americans in basketball, in New York City and elsewhere, from the early 1900s through 1950, the year the National Basketball Association became racially integrated.

Just after basketball was invented in 1891, teams were often called fives, for their five starting players.

Teams of only African American players were called colored fives, Negro fives, or black fives.

For African Americans, the Black Fives Era paralleled the advancement of black culture itself. These teams and players fostered hope, unity, and self-esteem during difficult times.

The men and women of the Black Fives Era were true basketball pioneers who opened doors for generations of African American players.


“The Black Fives,” a first-ever exhibition, was a collaboration and partnership between the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library, the Black Fives Foundation, and Claude Johnson, the Foundation’s executive director, who is a historian, an author, and the guest curator of the exhibition for the museum.

Among its activities, the Black Fives Foundation maintains a collection of artifacts, ephemera, memorabilia, objects, photographs, images, and other material relating to the period.

Many of these were on display in the exhibition.