(Part 1 in a series of posts honoring vintage all-black U.S. military basketball teams. Skip to Part 2)
I recently mentioned that George Crowe, the last living New York Renaissance player, played with an African American military basketball team made up of servicemen from the base where he was stationed, at Camp Lee, Virginia.
Ever since, I’ve been wanting to point out that the existence of all-black military hoops teams goes as far back as racial segregation in the Armed Services.
One such team played in the early 1910s. It was the 10th Cavalry “Buffalo Soldiers” Five, from Fort Ethan Allen in Colchester, Vermont.
The much celebrated and highly distinguished Tenth United States Cavalry Regiment had arrived in Vermont in 1909, for a four-year tour of duty. The famous “Buffalo Soldiers” — made up of the Tenth Regiment and three other all-black regiments — had served heroically on the western frontier, in Cuba, in the Philippines, in Mexico, and elsewhere.
But when they first got to Vermont, residents in the predominantly white surrounding area were fearful of what it would be like to have relatively huge numbers of African Americans in their midst all at once.
So many blacks appeared almost overnight that white locals and African American soldiers alike sarcastically referred to the military base as “40th and Allen” — in a sly allusion to some (or any) inner city intersection.
But most Vermonters soon embraced the Tenth, and the feeling was mutual. Ultimately many black soldiers remained in the area and settled into nearby towns.
This summer, the State of Vermont will officially celebrate the 100th anniversary of their arrival and service.
The 10th Cavalry Five basketball team was so good that it billed itself as the United States Army’s “colored” champions.
But self-billing can backfire.
When the team visited New York City in 1911 for a basketball game with the New York All Stars, another all-black team that was much smaller, they lost unceremoniously.
Despite being outsized and outweighed, “science conquered over beef and brawn,” reported the New York Age, a leading black newspaper, as the All Stars physically out-did the military squad in what was described as a rough game. “Medical aid and sticking plaster were called into use several times, and one soldier had a sweet short dream in the second half, but no one was seriously injured.”
The 10th Cavalry “Buffalo Soldiers” Five are admittedly from the ranks of the very obscure. I mean, who could have known?
But not anymore.
And, there were many other such basketball teams that made pioneering contributions over the years.
(10th Cavalry Five photograph courtesy of the Anthony Powell Collection.)